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Tunney wants late-night retailers to have surveillance cameras — inside and out

Ald. Tom Tunney | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago stores open overnight would be required to have surveillance cameras both inside and out between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. – and share those recordings with the Chicago Police Department – under an anti-crime crackdown that has drawn the ire of retailers.

Currently, interior and exterior surveillance cameras are required, only of those Chicago bars with 4 a.m. liquor licenses.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) wants to broaden that Big Brother umbrella to make the same demand of “late night retail licensees” open between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Digital recordings would have to be “maintained for not less than 30 days and made available” to the Chicago Police Department “no less than twelve hours after an incident.”

Those same merchants would also be required to prominently display a “24-hour telephone number of a local contact” for emergency use.

“If there’s an incident and police need to come into your establishment, who is your emergency contact? Not the store clerk who’s there. Who is gonna be accepting responsibility in case there’s an incident at this particular establishment?” Tunney said.

Most retailers already have interior surveillance cameras, but exterior cameras are rare. Installing them and maintaining the recordings would be expensive.

But Tunney made no apologies for the latest in a string of costly mandates.

“We believe that there is a disproportionate amount of crime happening in those wee hours of the morning,” the alderman said Thursday.

“If you want to open during all of those hours knowing that incidents of criminal activity is higher during those hours, you need to protect yourself and your business and make sure the place has cameras and that there is an emergency contact to work with the police department. And camera footage needs to be stored in case, on Monday morning, we find that there was an incident happening over a Friday or Saturday night and police were not immediately called.”

Tunney, owner of Ann Sather restaurants, normally doesn’t go for government mandates. He rails against them knowing first-hand the price that retailers pay.

But he’s leading the charge for interior and exterior surveillance cameras at overnight retail stores because there are so many of them that could be magnets from crime.

“You have Dunkin’ Donuts. You have 7-Eleven’s. You have some Walgreen’s. Some CVS [stores]. You’ve got gas stations. You’ve got more than you think,” Tunney said, one day after introducing the ordinance at a City Council meeting.

“It’s really a privilege to be open [that late]…For those extra hours of sales — and some of these places are open 24 hours —it’s prudent for them to be pro-active.”

Tanya Triche, vice-president and general counsel for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said her members have serious cost and liability concerns about any city mandate requiring them to, as she put it, “monitor police activity.”

“Many of them have cameras to monitor what goes on inside their establishments. Obviously, they’re going to be liable for certain things. But when you start putting cameras on the street, that becomes private businesses doing the work of the city,” Triche said.

“Then, you have a question of, what are we gonna be liable for? What if the camera is not working and something happens outside on the street? What is the extent of our liability?”

Triche acknowledged the struggle aldermen have in balancing the needs of businesses and residents.

But she is hoping to devise a solution to Tunney’s security concerns that is “not legislative and would not require cameras.”

“There certainly is a cost to it and a cost to preserve the video for the requisite amount of days. But the big concern is what are we gonna be liable for?” Triche said.

“It’s a slippery slope. Right now, cameras would only have to be operational between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., but that could easily extend from midnight to 5 a.m. or from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Once you open that door, you can’t close it.”

Tunney’s North Side ward includes Wrigley Field, Boystown and thriving commercial and entertainment strips crowded with bars and restaurants.

He has been on the warpath about a drop in police manpower in a Town Hall District plagued by robberies and burglaries that runs contrary to a promise made in exchange for his vote for the largest property tax increase in Chicago history.

Last month, Tunney talked to Police Supt. Eddie Johnson about the alarming drop in officers and was promised “more resources by May. … He has made a private commitment to me that I will be happy with the number.”