Chicago Is Most-Watched City in America
"I don't think there is another city in the U.S. that has as an extensive and integrated camera network as Chicago has," Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, told the AP.
Over the past decade Chicago has installed security cameras across the city on street poles and skyscrapers, on buses, in train tunnels, in city schools, and at local landmarks such as Navy Pier and Soldier Field. The network has linked up with cameras in private businesses and people's homes.
In a city known for its robust police force and a mayor, Richard Daley, who's earned the moniker "King Daley," the cameras have been implemented without much criticism about how they might infringe on people's privacy. And the cameras have been applauded for catching drug deals, bike thefts and even a holiday bell-ringer stealing donations.
What makes Chicago's security camera system unique is not the sheer number, which by some estimates may be as many as 10,000, but how the network links private and public entities to police authorities.
As video is captured, it is fed back live to the command center, to desktop computers at police stations and even to laptops in some of the city's squad cars.
The cameras can give authorities more information on how to respond before they arrive on a scene, such as how many suspects are armed or if a victim is injured.
Using the federally-funded program called "video analytics," the technology can detect certain suspicious signs on the surveillance video and set off an alarm. For instance, the system can alert the police department if a package has been sitting unattended in a certain location for too long.
But does it make Chicago safer?
Chicago police say cameras have assisted in making 4,400 arrests since 2006. In another neighborhood study, security cameras helped lower the number of crimes that included drug sales, robberies and unlawful weapon possessions, according to unpublished research by the Washington-based Urban Institute.
However, murders -- not just misdemeanors -- have historically been a problem for the city even though rates have fallen from 2003, when Chicago led the nation for the highest number of homicides. In 2009, after a string of gang-related teen murders, the killing of a high school honor roll student refocused attention on Chicago's epidemic.
Given the city's history of violent crime, Chicago residents are likely to be supportive of police efforts to combat it, Paul Green, a Roosevelt University political science professor, told the AP. According to Chicago police, people are usually contacting them not to complain but to request that a camera is installed on their street, or to voice concern over one being removed.
Chicagoans may also be in favor of cameras contributing to a more cost-effective police force. A 2009 Chicago magazinestory called "Can Cameras Replace Cops?" revealed that a police officer costs at least $100,000 a year, including training, salary and benefits, while the cost of a camera is $13,000 and likely to decrease as technology improves.
But the technological ambitions of the security capital of the nation doesn't stop there. The city hopes to extend the network to officers on the street equipped with handheld devices, and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis has talked about adding secret cameras as small as matchboxes to the system.