CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, April 4, 2005

Big Brother Moves to the Suburbs

Police_camera_1Public officials in Bellwood, IL, a village of 21,000 residents covering 3.5 square miles in Greater Chicago, have decided to join the growing list of cities using surveillance cameras to deter crime.  Only Bellwood is taking their initiatives one step further.  As reported in the Chicago Tribune, within two years, officials plan for Bellwood to be the first town in Illinois (and quite possibly the first in the entire country) "to have every public thoroughfare, sidewalk and alley under the watchful digitized eye of the Bellwood Police Department...[In response to criticism from the ACLU,] Bellwood's mayor said he welcomed the suggestion that his town might be considered something akin to a Big Brother-land.  'I wish we could create that image. I would love that,' Mayor Frank Pasquale said with a chuckle. Although village officials say their town is not unsafe, and in fact crime has dropped in the last two years, they are aiming for a crime-free future.  'Let this be a warning to our criminals,' Pasquale said. 'Be aware. We have you covered. So go elsewhere.'...The cameras, which police will monitor at the department's call center and can access through laptops in their cars, are the latest technology. They're wireless and sound-activated. Any excessive noise prompts the cameras to tilt and point toward the sound, enabling the department to hone in on a crime even as it is happening. The images are beamed to the department and the laptops through highly encrypted Internet servers and can be downloaded to compact discs to be used as evidence. High-ranking department officials eventually will be able to access the cameras via hand-held PDAs. 

In a demonstration Wednesday, a camera set on a lamppost in the Bellwood Police Department parking lot was able to zoom in on the license plate of a car parked about five blocks away. When a gun was fired into the air, the camera took less than one second to shift toward the sound and zoom in on the demonstrator.  'We can look for chain-link fences rattling, gunshots obviously, car alarms, burglar alarms,' said Steve Daugherty, president of Current Technologies, the Naperville-based company that built and will install the cameras for Bellwood. 'Any sound that's discernible, we can find it, sense it and point a camera at it.'  But unlike the flashing blue-light districts in Chicago, Bellwood officials say most of their cameras won't be visible to the public eye. The point is not to deter crime, but eliminate it, they said."  The project is scheduled to begin in May 2005 and cost about $750,000, which will be offset by speeding tickets and other citations police expect to be able to give using their new surveillance cameras.  Business owners will be able to pay link their businesses' surveillance cameras into Bellwood's camera system.  The Chicago Tribune's full story...

For an earlier post on the growing trend of public surveillance, click here. [Mark Godsey]

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/crimprof_blog/2005/04/big_brother_and.html

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