JEFFERSON PARK — The Far Northwest Side could get more police observation cameras in the coming months in an effort to solve crimes and deter criminal activity, Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) said at a public safety meeting Wednesday night.
Gardiner wants to install five to 10 cameras throughout the ward using menu funds to address issues of rising crime. He said the cameras will help officers do their jobs and make residents feel more safe.
“If I can invest our funds to help the officers already working at [the 16th District] like using [police observation device] cameras to help officers to do their job, I am fully invested in doing that,” Gardiner told attendees.
Each year, the 50 wards get $1.5 million each from the city’s budget for special projects and repairs. Gardiner said he hopes to use some of that money for the cameras, though he did not specify a timeline or possible locations of surveillance devices.
One camera can cost up to $24,776, according to the city’s Department of Transportation’s 2021 Menu Ward Detail Report.
In March of last year, Gardiner partnered with Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer to install five cameras throughout the community, which cost about $127,000, according to the report. The money came from Gainer’s office and not menu funds, the alderman said.
These cameras were instrumental in helping catch the suspect charged in the December killing of 19-year-old Meagan Bilbo, the alderman said. Rusten Reece Relucio, 27, was caught on multiple surveillance cameras near North Central and West Lawrence avenues circling the area before opening fire at the illegal club, Cook County prosecutors said last week.
“Technology will be instrumental in solving crimes like that,” Gardiner said.
Officers from the 16th District also said license plate reader cameras have been helpful in catching those committing crimes like robberies and thefts.
Residents who attended the in-person meeting, which was also streamed virtually, largely applauded Gardiner’s stance on cameras, though some were skeptical of how much crime a camera can prevent.
Adam Vavrick, who lives in Jefferson Park, said the cameras are helpful in catching offenders but don’t do enough to address the root causes of crime.
“Cameras are like throwing more sandbags at a river that’s overflowing,” Vavrick said. “It’s great at stopping the water but it’s not actually doing anything about why the water is overflowing in the first place.”
Vavrick would like to see the Chicago Police Department pay for the cameras, instead of the alderman using funds for neighborhood repairs and projects going toward surveillance without community input.
“Gardiner making the unilateral decision to spend menu budget is unfortunate,” Vavrick later told Block Club. “Gardiner pulled participatory budgeting out of the 45th Ward as the first item of business after we’d voted on in it and sank the money into potholes. By paying for CPD’s resources they can definitely afford, he’s taking money away from our sidewalks and streets.”
Some Chicago alderpeople use a participatory budgeting process, which allows residents to vote on how ward money is spent. Shortly after Gardiner was elected in 2019, he scrapped the process so he decides how to spend the city funds.
He has used much of the ward’s menu money for street repairs, according to the city report and previous community meetings.
When Vavrick asked what steps the alderman is taking to address root causes of crime in the area, Gardiner said pushing for economic and business growth can help stop crime.
“If I can continue to attract businesses, I think that’s a deterrent to crime,” he said. “I would like to see more business, foot [traffic], walking from business to business… I am hoping that influx of development [at Six Corners] and businesses will be a positive.”
Though the Far Northwest Side has significantly lower crime rates than other parts of the city, neighbors and local officials are concerned about gun violence, which has spread into neighborhoods where shootings had been atypical in the last two years.
Some have called for additional police patrols, more resources for cops and increased community partnerships, especially for the city’s largest police district.
16th District Commander Maureen Biggane, who also attended the safety meeting, said crime data for the district remain low but that theft-related crimes are the most common.
“We are doing a really good job in keeping the numbers low but if you do not feel safe and you feel like there’s the chance of feeling victimized, that’s just as important and tell us we need to do something better or a little differently,” Biggane said, who’s been commander of the district for about three and a half years.
As more neighbors report hearing gunshots and seeing signs of gang activity in the community, Gardiner said investing in police cameras is a good immediate step, though he stressed additional officers would be ideal.
Police Supt. David Brown has promised more patrols are coming to multiple districts that have seen a drop in police officers. Biggane said she understands residents have called for more manpower. The district currently has 233 officers, up from 229 at the end of 2021, according to a city database. She said four more officers will begin Thursday.
Contrary to the city data, police officers in the field have previously told Block Club the district is operating at much fewer officers.
Gardiner said he plans to make community safety meetings in the ward routine to listen to concerns, share crime updates and help residents get to know local police officers.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.