New EPD device keeps candid camera on criminals

Alex Doniach

Evanston Police Department’s newest crime-fighting gadget could force vandals to think twice before making their mark on city structures.

A specially designed portable, hidden camera will be placed in secret locations throughout the city to photograph graffiti artists in the act.

The camera emits a beam of light that, once broken, photographs the vandal. Police will not disclose the time or date they will use the camera, but they intend to place the equipment in hard-to-monitor, graffiti-prone areas.

“The camera provides a proactive approach to graffiti abatement,” said Cmdr. Michael Perry of EPD. “It’s long range covers a large area, and it operates in total darkness.”

A daily offense, graffiti costs the city of Evanston up to $60,000 per year, according to Stan Janusz, assistant director for Evanston’s Division of Property Standards and Housing Rehabilitation.

“The total cost is probably more than that,” Janusz said. “If you add in the cost and energy spent on actually removing graffiti, then the amount is huge.”

Paul D’Agostino, superintendent of Evanston’s Parks and Forestry, said the $10.000 his department spends annually to clean up park property could be saved if repeat offenders are caught.

“If used correctly, the camera could be very effective at catching gang-related incidences,” D’Agostino said.

EPD hopes the camera is a final remedy for the offense.

“Graffiti is a big problem,” Perry said. “It’s an eyesore, costs money to clean and is a crime.”

The police department purchased the camera for a little more than $3,000 with a Law Enforcement Block Grant. If the camera proves successful, it could save the city the money that is currently spent cleaning vandalized property.

Police are not targeting specific gangs or individuals, because graffiti vandals are normally hard to catch, Perry said. Instead, police said they will use the camera to monitor frequently targeted locations.

Terry Ferguson, a Church Street Plaza employee, said he hopes the camera will be effective in deterring vandals from painting the alleyway behind his workplace. According to Ferguson, the alley is painted about once every three months, and although a few dollars and some elbow grease is enough to remove the images, Ferguson said graffiti is a hassle he would rather do without.