New camera system a necessary start to ending shootings on Chicago expressways

We remain concerned, however, about law enforcement’s ever-increasing surveillance capabilities. And there’s a danger of over-reliance on the cameras once they’re up and running.

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State police investigate the scene of a shooting Friday morning in the northbound lanes of the I-57 Expressway near 119th Street.

State police investigate the scene of a shooting on I-57 near 119th Street

Justin Jackson/Sun-Times

Chicago expressways — already not for the faint of heart, with speeding motorists and out-of-the-blue traffic jams — have become even more dangerous this year with a rise of shootings along the motorways.

But a new network of high-definition cameras and license plate reading equipment began hitting Chicago area expressways Wednesday. Here’s hoping it can make a difference in reducing shootings on the motorways and helping police nab those responsible when gunfire erupts.

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The cameras and associated software are being purchased with a $12.5 million Illinois Department of Transportation grant in response to the uptick in expressway shootings in recent years.

Illinois State Police told us the new system will be tested over the weekend — and not a moment too soon. Chicago is averaging nearly five reports of gunfire a week on its area expressways this year.

The shootings can have tragic consequences. Among the latest: retired special education teacher Denise M. Huguelet, 67, who was killed after she was caught in the crossfire between two other cars on the Dan Ryan Expressway near 63rd Street Tuesday night.

2021: Just 10 arrests

As of Thursday night, 157 reports of shooting this year on the Chicago area’s eight expressways and Illinois 394.

Police say the shootings are the result of everything from road rage to on-going city gang disputes that then spill onto the expressways.

But the ease of escape — and the difficulty in identifying suspects who are seated in cars — have contributed to few of the shootings being solved. Police have made only 10 arrests in this year’s incidents.

Suspects in Huguelet’s death are being questioned. State police say a nearby trooper heard the gunshots and chased — along with a police helicopter— the two suspects’ car, arrested them and recovered a handgun.

The new camera network was funded through a state law named for Tamara Clayton, who was shot and killed while driving on I-57 near Cicero Avenue in 2019. The case remains unsolved.

“By implementing this camera technology, we are not going to stop the number of shootings on the expressways,” state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, who sponsored the law, said in 2019. “However, this technology will be used as a tool to catch those people who are using our expressways as their own personal shooting range.”

A necessary start

As part of the new network, Illinois State Police will install automated license plate readers at 47 spots along the expressway system in Cook County.

Each location will include a camera that can read a moving vehicle’s license plate and send the info to a central headquarters where systems can match up and identify the tags.

Admittedly, our eyebrows raised a bit that it has taken a year and a half to get the camera system in place since the Tamara Clayton law was put in effect.

But state officials say the time was needed to find a vendor, engineer and build the system.

And while we remain concerned about law enforcement’s ever-increasing surveillance capabilities, Illinois State Police say the network will be used to catch expressway shooters, and not speeders or others accused of committing misdemeanors in view of cameras.

We’d also caution against an over-reliance on the system, once it is up in running.

As we said in a 2016 editorial on expressway shootings, at which time we called for better camera technology: “More lasting solutions, such as assigning more troopers to the expressways permanently … are begged for.”

This is still true. But the cameras are a good and necessary start.

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