UI wants cameras on city streets
CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois officials want to expand their security camera network — which now numbers more than 1,000 — onto city streets, and elected officials in Champaign will hear more about the proposal this week.
The 6-year-old security camera program has proven valuable in criminal investigations, UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen said, and adding more cameras along Green Street in the future will give police another tool in a high-traffic corridor through campus.
Tune to WDWS Wednesday at 7:40 a.m. as Champaign councilwoman Deb Feinen weighs in on cameras and other city matters.
The UI maintains 1,088 cameras (not including Memorial Stadium cameras) on its own property, and now wants to add to its network, using city-owned traffic standards and a control box near the intersection of Sixth and John streets.
It would be the first foray into expanding the network onto property not owned by the university, and it could usher in further expansion in the future. City council members will have to green-light the plan, and they'll hold their first public discussion of the proposal when they meet in study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Christensen said the cameras would be valuable to his department as well as Champaign and Urbana police, who all have an interest in keeping the Green Street corridor safe.
"Since our students travel, socialize, live in those areas, we would like to expand that network to provide that area with the safety aspect that has worked so far," Christensen said.
UI police conducted a survey last year to examine how often they were using their camera network. Between August 2012 and September 2013, Christensen said, UI police used security camera footage in 28 investigations. The footage assisted in solving 15 of those cases, and it provided supporting evidence in six cases.
One of the higher-profile uses of that footage began on April 7, 2013, when a man — later identified as 33-year-old Gregory Hayes Jr. — followed a female student into her Urbana dormitory, put her in a chokehold, dragged her out the door and sexually molested her. Two men heard the woman's screams and came to her aid.
The whole scene was caught on camera.
"We pushed that out on the mobile data computers to all local agencies, the image of the suspect, and almost immediately, an Urbana police officer recognized him as a registered sex offender," Christensen said. "He was arrested within the hour."
In December, Hayes was sentenced to the maximum 60 years in prison.
In 2012 and 2013, a group of Champaign, Urbana and UI police officers examined the existing locations of campus security cameras and made recommendations for new locations based on frequency of criminal activity and the amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
"We want to put them where they're going to be effective," Christensen said. "Cameras everywhere is not going to be effective."
In Champaign, those recommendations included Green Street from Neil to Wright streets; Sixth Street from Green to John streets; and the area surrounding the intersection of Fourth Street and Springfield Avenue. Christensen said police are also looking at some entryways to campus, like Lincoln Avenue.
But the Green Street corridor is the first phase of that expansion. To begin that process, UI officials would install cameras on city-owned traffic standards at the intersection of Sixth and John and connect to a traffic-control pedestal nearby.
The university is covering the entire $25,000 cost of the Sixth and John hookup, but there's no funding yet for further expansion, according to a city memo. That control box, however, would allow future access via city-owned fiber-optic cable to light standards on Green Street at Wright, Sixth and Fourth streets.
Complaints about the camera network have been "very, very infrequent" since their installation began in 2008, Christensen said. At the introduction of the program, police worked with members of the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure their comfort with how the cameras were being used. That resulted in a policy Christensen describes as "restrictive."
For example, the cameras do not record audio and are only used for public safety purposes. They are not installed in private areas like residence hall rooms and private offices, and "to the maximum extent possible," cameras are not pointed at the windows of private buildings not on university property.
Live monitoring of the video camera feeds typically does not occur, with the exception being large-scale special events like Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, the Champaign County Freedom Celebration and during the Illinois Marathon.
City officials note in their memo to the city council that security cameras were instrumental in identifying and eventually capturing the two men responsible for the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon.
Expanding the network
With Champaign City Council approval, the UI's security camera network could soon expand to the intersection of Sixth and John streets. The other areas where they may consider installing cameras:
Green Street, from Neil Street in Champaign to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.
Sixth Street, from Green Street to John Street, Champaign.
Near Joe's Brewery, 706 S. Fifth St., C.
Near The Red Lion, 211 E. Green St., C.
Fourth Street and Springfield Avenue intersection, Champaign.
Lincoln Avenue and Green Street intersection, Urbana.
Near Canopy Club, 708 S. Goodwin Ave., U.
Lincoln Avenue and Bradley Avenue intersection, Urbana.