Champaign City Council OKs more eyes in sky

Champaign City Council OKs more eyes in sky

CHAMPAIGN — Safety versus privacy around the University of Illinois campus was up for debate Tuesday night, as UI police asked Champaign officials to add to its vast network by putting security cameras on city streets.

Most city council members were at least uncomfortable with the ubiquity of cameras in public places, but safety issues outweighed privacy concerns as they voted 7-2 to let the UI put cameras on city property.

The request by UI police was only for four cameras at the intersection of Sixth and John streets, but it likely paves the way to future expansion of the camera network along at least the Green Street corridor. The UI maintains more than 1,000 cameras on campus, monitoring building entrances and exteriors, intersections, and Memorial Stadium, to name a few locations.

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. Police once planned to install as many as 4,500 cameras around campus, but Detective Tim Hetrick told city council members that number is probably no longer realistic.

But police officials are still looking to expand, especially into high-traffic areas where they do not have good camera coverage. The cameras have already been instrumental in dozens of criminal investigations into instances of crimes such as sexual assault and robbery, and police monitor live feeds of video during large-scale events like Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, the Illinois Marathon and Fighting Illini football games.

Council member Tom Bruno noted the irony, however, in police monitoring live video during the Champaign County Freedom Celebration. He ultimately voted against the request for expansion onto city property, saying he'd like history to show that he pushed back a little.

"Somewhere, somewhere along the line, without sounding like we're lunatics, I'd like to push back a little bit and say 'We don't need to do everything we're capable of doing,'" Bruno said.

Council member Marci Dodds joined him in opposition. She said she was appreciative of a restrictive UI policy that has strict rules on when and how officials may use the video, and she added that she does not think current police officials would do anything undesirable with the cameras.

But she wondered whether that will always be true in the future.

"I am done for now with cameras and worrying about every single time I go anywhere or do anything if I'm being filmed," Dodds said. "And if I'm not being filmed, will I be attacked? It's not a way to live."

But safety won out for most of the city council. Vic McIntosh said cameras are in nearly every institution, and "I agree we need to respect that."

"I will also say the benefits outweigh my worry," he added. "I would like, if I was on Sixth and Green and someone accosted me and I couldn't tell who it was, that you could pull him up on camera and put him in jail and stop him from doing it to someone else."

Campus safety is important to the whole community, he said.

"It's the driving force of this whole engine over here, and I think we need to protect these students," McIntosh said.

"The benefits are pretty clear," said council member Michael La Due, who lives in and represents the campus area. He said he also has concerns, but frequently observes students with a "diminished capacity" who are often alone walking campus at all hours.

"My personal values are not as important as the safety of my constituents," La Due said.

He said the UI police request was "reasonable," though he suspects it may not be the last — but that's something that comes with living in an era dominated by technology.

"We may have dreaded the advent of the brave new world, but that is the world we live in," La Due said.

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alabaster jones 71 wrote on August 13, 2014 at 7:08 am
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Big Brother is watching!

But really, those in power can already monitor almost everything about your life that they want to.  So what's a few extra cameras?

rsp wrote on August 13, 2014 at 7:08 am

Those cameras can also catch big brother in action. I feel better about this than if the feds were doing it.

SaintClarence27 wrote on August 13, 2014 at 8:08 am

Agreed - including possible police misconduct.