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home : opinion : opinion/editorial February 5, 2016

12/4/2013 3:43:00 PM
Guest Essay: Do Cameras Provide Real Security?
A Guest Essay By Dickelle Fonda, Emma Garl Smith and Jackie Newsome

As a cross-generational group of Evanston residents, we would like to address your recent proposal to install surveillance cameras along two major streets in our city: Dodge from Simpson to Howard and Church from McCormick to Ridge.  We respect and share your intention to ensure the safety of students as they travel to and from ETHS.    However, we strongly disagree that this proposal is a viable means of creating safe passage for students.

Over the past decade there has been extensive independent research conducted on the costs and benefits of surveillance cameras on public streets that indicates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime. The “deterrence” or “preventive “benefit that you attribute to cameras has also not been supported by the studies conducted in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs and London.  It does, however, indicate that there may be a “diversionary” effect, potentially displacing crime into surrounding areas.

(For more information from a compilation of studies see:

 Additionally, your assurance to the community that our privacy rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon because the City will not have personnel actually monitoring these cameras in real time leaves the citizenry puzzled as to why cameras would be the best method of safety enhancement.  We are concerned that creating two surveillance corridors through our City where students believe they will be safe because there are cameras on every block, may instead lead students to be less vigilant and cautious. This falls short of the goal of creating real safety.

We know that it is not enough to raise opposition to your well-intentioned proposal without offering alternatives.  We would like to suggest one of many plausible alternatives, that could enhance students’ actual safety and not just their perception of safety.

The two major streets for which cameras are being proposed are also streets with designated bike routes. The City has just received a $480,000 federal grant to construct a protected bike lane on Dodge from Church to Howard to be completed by fall of 2014. This path could be extended from Church to Simpson.   Currently there is a bike lane on Church from McCormick through downtown Evanston. In lieu of creating unprecedented surveillance zones in Evanston, let’s create a true safe-passage zone.  During the designated hours before and after school, we suggest a strategic and focused deployment of our community police officers who used to ride through our neighborhoods on their bikes.  The bike lanes offer a great opportunity for officers to be moving along the same route that has been targeted for cameras and adds extra mobility allowing officers to also patrol the neighboring streets.  We believe that an actual human presence would be a far better deterrent to crime.  It also offers police an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with students they see on their bike routes and beat patrols.

However, for our alternative to work we must actualize the concept of “it takes a village.”  The City of Evanston, the police department and concerned citizens need to actively engage “the village.”  We could invite residents from all of our neighborhoods, who share our belief that students have the right to feel safe on all of our streets, to consider taking bike rides on these designated routes during pre and post school hours.   That builds community as well as safety for our youth.  It is also consistent with an Evanston150 goal to “build a more walkable and bikeable city by sharing our streets, and advocating for safer, healthier, more livable streets in Evanston.”  And it echoes the call for “co-produced safety” recently advocated by the new Evanston Alliance to End Violence.

We understand that ensuring the safety of all of Evanston’s students is a complex task and that there are no easy fixes.     But we also believe that the creation of surveillance zones through the heart of Evanston’s most diverse neighborhoods feels like an attempt to use Federal resources to achieve a quick, feel good fix.  The unintended consequences could be to stigmatize a series of stable neighborhoods along these routes.  Recent public statements by members of the Evanston police department indicate that “most of the incidents of concern occur within two blocks of the high school.” To address this fact, the city has already allocated $60,000 for lights and cameras for a two block perimeter around ETHS.

We urge you to consider our proposal, as well as other suggestions which may be offered by members of the community at the upcoming public hearings.   These hearings will be an important opportunity for residents to voice their views on such an important issue.

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Article comment by: George Woodards

To the Editor: In your recent article "The Big Picture:" will cameras make students safe or diminish civil liberties?
I would love to chime in on that, using many old clichés! The first one "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure"! To prevent a crime from happening is better than catching the crook after perpetrating his offense. You can ask any of the people who have been assaulted and or the victim of crime which is better to have the incident prevented or to have gone through the experience? The cameras which are proposed would act as a deterrent rather than an invasion of privacy. The second cliché: "for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing!" It is impractical in impossible to position police officers at every corner to prevent possible criminal activity. While it would be an deterrent, but at what cost? As the chief pointed out the various factors making the deployment of officers on a full-time basis in that area would be financially imprudent!
The only ones who have reasons to dread being caught on camera of those who have some nefarious activity plan! As the article writers: Mary Helt Gavin: points out most of these criminal violations are being perpetrated on the west side she noted also that many if not all of the offenders are African-American, I would venture that most of the victims are as well. One of the reasons why much of this action is taken place in the predominately African-American community is their ability to blend in. For the most part the offenders have not the capability to reason and think beyond the momentary gratification of perpetrating their act.
If this is indeed the case, the best avenue of deterrent, is the removal of anonymity. Clearly these criminal types do not want to be identified, and the more that is done to expose their criminal activities the better. What better evidence of their guilt is to produce documented proof of their transgressions? Clearly the use of cameras would be the most economical and expedient way to go. As the mayor has said the use of these cameras are not and cannot prevent criminal activities yet their use would make the would-be crook think bit harder, as to the strong possibility of his/their crimes being caught on camera.
My hat is off to the mayor and the chief of police in their use of modern technology to diminish, and perhaps eliminate these crimes in that area.
Respectfully yours:
Rev: G

Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Article comment by: Lora Kirk

Dickelle, Emma, and Jackie: Pure genius! I have only one additional suggestion and that is to redirect some money towards better lighting in the area, and especially in the alleys of high-crime areas. The city's expectation that local residents will fund an alley light is absurd in a high-crime area - does the city think a crack house is going to fund an alley light?

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