Surveillance proposal for ETHS routes sparks heated debate

Kelly Gonsalves, Reporter

An Evanston community meeting Tuesday night escalated from a tense debate to a shouting match regarding Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s  proposal to place surveillance cameras on the streets leading to Evanston Township High School.

Tisdahl pitched her plan at Monday night’s City Council meeting, proposing the cameras along 3.7 combined miles of the two streets that intersect at ETHS, 1600 Dodge Ave. At the community meeting, she said the purpose of the project is to make ETHS students “feel safer” walking to and from school, as well as aid the Evanston Police Department in solving crime in the area.

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington presented the roughly 30 residents in attendance with recent scenarios of how police already use other cameras throughout the city, citing cases in which captured footage supported the cases of victims of shootings and car accidents.

Residents, however, quickly raised concerns about whether the cameras would actually deter crimes or merely make it easier to investigate them after they occur.

“It doesn’t seem that it stopped the crime from happening,” Evanston resident Jevoid Simmons told Eddington. “What you shared with us really talks about what you’re able to do after it’s done. I don’t know that things will actually deter (crime).”

But Eddington maintained that detaining one offender prevents future offenses and therefore would deter crime.

Residents also expressed concern that the cameras would just move the crime away from Church Street and Dodge Avenue. Tisdahl responded that the purpose of her plan is to provide safe routes to ETHS, not reduce all crime in Evanston.

Second Ward resident Dickelle Fonda proposed increasing police or community volunteer presence on the two ETHS routes before and after school hours. Her suggestion was met with applause.

“This is where the kids are walking. Instead of cameras, let’s have people. A human deterrence is probably much more effective than a technological deterrence,” Fonda said. “Our children will respond much better to human beings being out there.”

The conversation grew heated when several residents asked what type of message the cameras would send about the area.

“It segments out a community … and it says to people all around that it’s very dangerous and that we have to have cameras for people to be safe,” Simmons said. “It hurts the community, and I don’t know that there’s a great advantage to having this kind of a system.”

A resident angrily disagreed when another suggested it was too dangerous for young people and adults to walk home alone at night in the area. Some attendees applauded, while others interjected with their own views on the issue.

The argument died down as Tisdahl closed the meeting.

“I am not proposing cameras as a solution to all the problems in the city of Evanston. This is one tool for the police department to use,” Tisdahl said. “It’s a good tool, and it’s one that they say will help them do their jobs in keeping all of us and particularly our young people safe.”

Another community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 18, at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster Street. City Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its first meeting in January.

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