Smile: You're likely on someone's camera

Smile: You're likely on someone's camera

Although some local officials are reluctant to talk about it, it appears there are at least 2,000 video cameras in operation on public property in Champaign-Urbana.

And literally thousands more cameras will be coming online in the next few years, particularly on the University of Illinois campus.

Furthermore, that doesn't account for untold numbers of security cameras in operation in businesses and on private property.

There is no accurate count of the number of cameras on the UI campus, said UI Police Detective Tim Hetrick, because many buildings and units have their own video security systems.

But that is about to change. In about five years, he estimates, there will be more than 4,000 security cameras in and around UI buildings that will be tied into a single system.

"The campus policy now states that any video system installed has to be fed through our management system and video feed has to be provided to the police department," Hetrick said. "Now there are decentralized systems all over the campus and different video types. That was one of the things that prompted us to develop this system. We have so many different video types that you can't put all the decoding software on one computer and expect it to run."

Hetrick said there are "easily" 500 security cameras on campus now. By the end of the year the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District will have about 1,000 cameras, both in stationary positions and on its vehicles. Other local agencies have significantly fewer cameras, ranging from about 150 in and around Urbana schools to six at the Champaign County Housing Authority's three high-rise apartment buildings. Parkland College has no security cameras.

Local public libraries have a surprising number of cameras – 58 in the Champaign Public Library and 44 in the Urbana Free Library.

"I know it sounds like a lot but we've found them helpful," said Mary Bissey, assistant director of the Champaign library. "There are two purposes. One is to protect the collection and to deter theft. The other one is to help monitor behavior. It's a very large building with some corners where we can't see from the desk. The cameras allow us to know what's going on in those corners."

At the Urbana library, said executive director Debra Lissak, cameras were added in early 2007 following a string of bicycle thefts.

"They were immediately successful in deterring crime. Over the past few years we have gradually added more cameras," she wrote in an e-mail. "Inside we have cameras at all exits and at locations that are more prone to theft, vandalism or rowdy behavior. Also, for the security of the staff we use cameras at all public service desks."

Champaign public schools have 149 cameras, said spokeswoman Lynn Peisker, including 48 on buses. The majority of cameras in buildings are at the high schools, she said.

Urbana schools have "around 110" cameras, said Ota Dossett, the school district's director of facilities services. Most of the cameras are in the middle and high school buildings, he said.

"Typically in an elementary school you're doing asset protection – vandals, mischief and whatever. In the high school and middle schools it's a supervisory activity. Individuals know they're on camera and so I think perhaps they behave better," he said. "Some are in plain view. Some you would need to know where they are. You may not be aware that you are in view, but we do post when you enter the building that you are on video."

Urbana High Principal Laura Taylor is a believer in the effectiveness of security cameras.

"It's not only because it's a deterrent for misbehavior, but also for safety reasons. We have cameras all over. We can monitor the outside of our building for unwanted trespassers. We have a pretty tight ship here now so there's only one door that people can enter. It provides us an opportunity to keep people who aren't supposed to be in the building outside of the building."

Champaign County's 911 system, known as METCAD, has 57 cameras. Some are in and around the dispatching center in east Urbana; others are at the system's tower sites.

"We are critical to dispatching first responders in emergencies and we want to be sure that we stay up and running, and that people aren't running in and out of our place," said Ralph Caldwell, the METCAD director who formerly was police chief in Springfield.

"Some people think of big brother looking over your shoulder, things like that. But as far as security for my children or your children or our family members, it just makes it a little safer and hopefully deters some criminal activity from happening," said Caldwell.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said cameras have proven to be a significant aid to police in investigating crimes.

"We use a lot of private businesses' cameras. Those cameras are everywhere. Just about every business has cameras inside and outside and they'll catch parking lots. The first thing we do now at a crime scene is go around the businesses that are near the scene and ask if their camera may have caught anything," he said.

He believes cameras will become increasingly useful in fighting and solving crime.

"I think where this is going for a lot of communities will be mobile cameras where they can move them to problem areas, in strategic locations, rather than to have them everywhere," he said. "In the long run it's much cheaper than putting officers out on surveillance."

Hetrick, the UI detective, said cameras won't replace police officers but will help them do their job better.

"What we're going to see is an increased closure rate in our cases because we'll have additional evidence to use," Hetrick said. "And we may see shorter turnaround time in our criminal cases simply because we won't have to go out to each individual department (on campus) and hope that they still have their video."

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dw wrote on September 06, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Welcome to Orwell's 1984.

Time to partake of another '80s activity: Wearing your sunglasses at night.

Who watches the watchers?

At what point do you go from reactive -- only relying on the video tape when a crime is reported/documented -- to active: mining the video feeds with facial recognition software, etc. To predictive (Minority Report). Who's to say they're not already?

It's only paranoia if they're not actually out to get you...

virgil g wrote on October 07, 2010 at 1:10 pm

How do we have these thousands of cameras around town, and there's no video of the attacks?