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City Council approves surveillance cameras for high school routes at heated meeting

Kelly Gonsalves, Reporter

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Despite loud disapproval from citizens in attendance, Evanston aldermen approved Monday a controversial plan to install surveillance cameras along the streets leading to Evanston Township High School.

The decision came after weeks of community discussion surrounding the proposal, which Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl introduced Dec. 9  as a means of providing a “safe passage” to and from school for ETHS students. The project would be funded by a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Justice. If the grant application is approved, the city will receive federal funding to place more than 10 cameras along 3.7 combined miles of Dodge Avenue and Church Street, which intersect at ETHS, 1600 Dodge Ave.

Citizens in attendance protested and stormed out of the council chambers immediately following the vote.

During the meeting, 17 citizens spoke against the measure, citing a lack of statistical evidence for the effectiveness of security cameras in reducing crime and the fact that the cameras would be unmonitored. One citizen in attendance, Doria Johnson, cited the racial implications attached to increasing security in one of the “most diverse” parts of the neighborhood.

“I’m more concerned about the rationale given that some of our children feel unsafe in this particular area,” said Cecil Curtwright, an Evanston resident who lives on one of the streets on which the cameras would be installed. “If in fact that is a perception and not reality, then our work needs to be about the perception that our young people may be feeling and the profiling of a community.”

Other citizens pointed out perceived civil liberty infringements, already reduced city crime rates and the possibility of property value decline as reasons to oppose the camera installation.

“I am not convinced that the message that we need to be sending our young people in the future is that more surveillance leads to safety,” Curtwright said. “Even if it does lead to safety in some sense, it also is a diminishment of freedom and liberty.”

The decision was 5-3 in favor of the proposal, with Alds. Judy Fiske (1st), Don Wilson (4th) and Peter Braithwaite (2nd) forming the opposition. Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) was not in attendance and did not vote.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) proposed writing the grant application in a way that would allow each alderman to decide where to place the security cameras within their ward, if at all. Tisdahl opposed the motion, saying only having cameras along some parts of the school route would deter from the concept of a full corridor and thus weaken the grant application.

“I’m concerned with a safe passage that goes the whole distance that doesn’t leave some kids out,” Tisdahl said. “If we’re talking about safe passage, it has to be for all children. It can’t be for some.”

The city will submit the grant application in February. The application will request $200,000 for the camera project, as well as an additional $100,000 for a summer youth employment program.

 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the amount of money Evanston is seeking for the ETHS camera project. The city is requesting $200,000. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @kellyagonsalves

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