Police cameras monitor streets

Evan Hessel

A man stands on the northeast corner of Simpson Street and Dewey Avenue between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Three cars pull up, and the drivers speak to the man. Across the street, four teenagers gather briefly to talk.

A police camera is watching them all.

The camera’s lens is housed in a dark glass half-sphere attached to a light post on the southeast corner of the intersection.

The camera, which was activated on Feb. 5, is the second to be installed by EPD in an effort to deter crime in areas with high levels of reported crime. The first EPD surveillance camera was installed in 2000 at the corner of Howard Street and Custer Avenue.

Police installed the camera in response to frequent complaints from residents and business owners that drugs were was constantly changing hands at the corner, said Ald. Joseph Kent (5th). Crime in the area often goes unreported due to lack of residents willing to call EPD, and the camera will provide police with some information that should be coming from the public, Kent said.

Though officers do not watch live footage, the camera already has stopped what appeared to be a drug deal in progress, said Cmdr. Michael Perry of EPD.

Minutes after the Simpson Street and Dewey Avenue camera was activated, officers watched a 17-year-old Evanston boy repeatedly approach cars and exchange items with motorists on the camera’s monitor, Perry said.

EPD arrived at the corner at approximately 10:20 a.m. and discovered a burning marijuana joint in the boy’s car during an investigation. The boy was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, Perry said.

Perry said the incident was unusual because it involved officers witnessing a crime in progress on the surveillance monitor, which is secured in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster Ave. The main purpose of the cameras is to record activity for later investigations.

Tapes are changed every 24 hours and kept in the surveillance room for a full month after their recording, Perry said.

EPD does not station officers at the camera’s monitors.

“The camera proves or disproves whether a reported crime occurred or did not occur,” Perry said.

EPD Chief Frank Kaminski said the camera has deterred loitering and other potentially criminal activities on the corner.

“I’ve noticed significantly less ‘hanging out’,” he said.

But Bobby Wilcher, owner of In the Groove Music, 1625 Simpson St., said the camera has not had any impact on criminal activity.

“It seems to me that people are still doing what they want to out there,” Wilcher said.

Wilcher still witnesses constant loitering from his store, which is directly across Simpson Street from the camera.

Loitering and drug activity will continue to take place on the corner until actual police presence increases, Wilcher said.

“When a police car is sitting out there, nothing goes on,” he said. “The camera is up and people are still out there.”

Wilcher said he is annoyed because EPD didn’t consult him before installing the camera. He is worried that the camera will deter potential customers from coming into his store, he said.

“People don’t want to come in here because their license plates are being filmed,” Wilcher said.

Wilcher explained that he has mixed feelings about the camera. While he wants to see crime eliminated from the neighborhood, many of the people who loiter on the corner come to spend money in his store, he said.

EPD is considering installing another surveillance camera at the corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue, Kaminski said.

The corner, which is adjacent to Evanston Township High School, is another “high activity area” and could benefit from the presence of a camera, he said.