City police get access to school cameras

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • March 07, 2008 @ 8:05 AM

The Chicago Police Department announced yesterday it had forged a partnership with the Board of Education giving cops remote access to 4,500 school cameras around the city.

Surrounded by a room full of security-camera images inside a high-tech room on the fifth floor of police headquarters on the South Side today, Mayor Richard M. Daley called the agreement with Chicago Public Schools the first of its kind in the country.

"No other city has as many cameras as we do," says Daley, while declining to state the actual number.

Until now, only CPS security officials monitored cameras at all high schools and a majority of all the city's schools. They will continue to do so, with the Chicago police stepping in during an emergency. The plan will add CPS cameras to the thousands of public and private-building cameras the city already monitors.

"These kinds of partnerships don't exist in many cities," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief, "and I am very, very grateful for that."

The camera link with CPS costs $418,000 and was paid for with Homeland Security funds.

Police are already receiving some feeds, though full implementation will come in a couple of months.

At the news conference, police simulated a 911 call about a person seen with a gun at Marshall High School. Within seconds, CPS cameras showed the school and the streets around it. A zooming device controlled by computer allowed detailed views of cars traveling down the street and the people driving them. Faces of pedestrians were clearly seen.

The presence of such technology, Daley says, may decrease crime since the cameras would catch criminals in the act and give police officers in cruisers immediate information.

"This is a great tool," Daley says. "This is something that can prevent a crime. It can prevent a murder, a rape."

In 10 years, the CPS has installed approximately 4,400 cameras. All high schools have cameras. All new schools under construction are wired for cameras. But not all schools are protected.

CPS is adding about 30 new cameras each year, says Neil O'Donnell, a security officer.

Daley does not see the additional use of cameras as a violation of civil rights.

"It's all public ways," Daley says. "A public sidewalk is a public sidewalk, a public street is a public street. It doesn't infringe on civil rights at all."

Durbak said cameras are positioned at school entrances, along streets outside a school and inside hallways. Cameras are not placed inside classrooms or rest rooms. And the hallway cameras will be used by police only during an emergency.

A security staff monitors those cameras 24 hours a day at its office. Even before the CPS began to install cameras, school security chief Andres Durbak says, principals and local school councils were allocating money from their own budgets for security devices.

In addition to giving the police immediate video access at its headquarters and police facilities across the city, the partnership with CPS also provides immediate video and complete floor plans of schools for police officers responding to an emergency call.

"The key," Daley says, "is getting information to that officer in the car."

Daley also announcing an earlier curfew on children and restated his position on gun legislation to decrease the number of firearms in the city.

The city's new curfew on those 17 years and younger begins March 22. Sunday through Thursday nights, youth must be off the streets by 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, it's 11 p.m.

The announcements came less than a week after four CPS students were killed and five wounded in separate gun incidents, none of them coming on school property.

"This past weekend was not a good one for our city," Daley says. "We must do all we can to prevent violence against our children."

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.