Council Debates Camera Dilemma

Both residents and aldermen fiercely debated the use of federal funds for surveillance cameras to deter crime at the intersection of Dodge Avenue and Main Street in a showdown that dominated Evanston City Council’s meeting Monday night.

Also Monday night City Council postponed a vote on raising natural-gas taxes, responding to requests from Evanston businesses to have more time to analyze the impact of the tax hike.

The increase, which would impact businesses that get their natural gas from companies other than Nicor Inc., could face a vote Nov. 10.

Though the camera issue was not on Monday’s agenda, it generated heated debate. Some residents at the meeting complained about loitering and drug dealing at Dodge and Main and suggested that a camera would make the neighborhood safer.

But Karen Bond, who lives on the contested corner, said cameras unfairly target predominantly black neighborhoods.

“We’re falling into this syndrome of installing cameras on corners where African-American males tend to congregate,” Bond said. “We are not animals in a cage to be watched.”

Instead, Bond suggested, the money should be used for programs at the Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main, which might interest young people who otherwise would hang out on the corner in question.

But Mimi Peterson, a member of the Crown Park Neighbors group, said residents overwhelmingly supported installing cameras. She was disappointed that the Housing and Community Development Act Committee did not pass a motion to allocate federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the cameras.

“The City Council has not committed police services that will adequately serve the needs of this neighborhood,” Peterson said. “Residents need aldermen who will provide leadership on this issue of safety.”

Peterson said the city previously had installed two surveillance cameras because of safety concerns — one at the corner of Howard Street and Custer Avenue and one at the corner of Simpson Street and Dewey Avenue.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd), whose ward borders the Main and Dodge intersection, said the council should look more at the social roots of youth crime.

“If we do not pay attention to what’s going on with the young people,” Jean-Baptiste said, “we will end up having them as a liability in the future.”

He said the council should focus more on programs for youth, instead of installing more cameras to monitor their behavior.

Evanston resident Judy Jager, who lives near the corner, said 49 community members signed a petition urging the council to install cameras. She also suggested that greater police presence would make the neighborhood safer.

“We are all becoming exasperated,” Jager said.

Ald. Gene Feldman (9th) said residents should be allowed to voice their concerns about any issue in the community and added that some sort of immediate action was necessary.

“I think that (Jean-Baptiste’s) reference was right on the mark,” he said. “(But) I don’t think that replaces the needs or the desires of the community to protect itself.”

Feldman also disagreed with Jean-Baptiste’s idea that the threat of crime in the area was overstated.

“You may feel safe, Alderman Baptiste, but there are people in this town who do not feel safe,” he said. “Certain things are happening that are unacceptable to neighbors.”

The camera and youth crimes issues were referred to the Human Services Committee, which will meet Nov. 3 at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

In other business at the meeting, the council rejected a proposed Quiznos location on the 300 block of Howard, after Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said the restaurant would cause litter and congestion.

In addition the council renewed an exemption for one more year that allows the homeless shelter Hilda’s Place to operate at the Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St.

Correction: Name misspelled (Nov. 3, 2003)

An article in Tuesday’s issue of the Daily misspelled the name of Evanston resident Judy Jager.