The Office of Emergency Management and Communications that runs Chicago’s 911 center is “taking over” a $30 million contract with Motorola Solutions to oversee and integrate Chicago’s Big Brother network of 2,700 public safety surveillance cameras.
The Motorola contract was previously managed by the Public Building Commission chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The PBC oversees construction of public buildings, including schools, libraries, police and fire stations.
“This allows OEMC to work directly with Motorola on new camera installation, maintenance and system integration projects in the future without going through PBC, which will result in cost savings for the city,” OEMC spokeperson Melissa Stratton wrote in an email.
Last year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded that Chicago has spent nearly $140 million over the last decade to build a vast network of 2,700 public safety surveillance cameras, but has not taken steps either to limit access to authorized personnel or ensure that the system is properly maintained.
Ferguson noted then that the public safety cameras are part of a broader network of 27,000 private and governed-owned surveillance cameras that together require “diligent management” to make certain the network is fulfilling its “operational mission.”
But the audit concluded that OEMC had no “reasonable assurance that only approved personnel had accessed the surveillance system and used it appropriately.”
As evidence, Ferguson noted that Chicago Police officers at district stations used group log-ins at shared computer terminals to access all 27,000 cameras in the broader network and to make “directional and focus changes” to the [roughly 2,700] city cameras able to make such adjustments.
That helped to explain why, in 2012, the inspector general’s attempt to investigate allegations that a public safety camera was manipulated to avoid recording a police arrest was “impeded” because OEMC was “unable to trace camera access to a specific person.”
The risk of such an impediment to both administrative and criminal investigations of wrongdoing “persists for all terminals with group log-ins,” the inspector general said then.
Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued then that the audit findings underscored the need for “privacy standards” approved by the City Council and regular audits to make certain those standards were being met “and people’s privacy is being protected.”
“These cameras are a powerful surveillance tool with an ability of some of these cameras to zoom in and point and direct themselves in a way that could invade peoples’ private spaces,” Yohnka said.
OEMC agreed with the audit findings and “initiated corrective actions”—by improving network access controls and by replacing group log-ins with unique user names and passwords.
At the time, OEMC also vowed to work with the PBC to develop “performance measures for the camera network, improve contractor oversight” and explore “alternative arrangement for program management,” Ferguson wrote.
Since 2006, OEMC has spent $139.8 million to develop the surveillance network. The majority of funding has come from federal Urban Area Security Initiative grants doled out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In 2010, Ferguson accused high-ranking OEMC officials of improperly routing a sole-source contract to Schaumburg-based Motorola.
To justify the no-bid contract, the officials allegedly cited an earlier, $2 million investment with Motorola for similar technology. In fact, the earlier expenditure was $350,000. And that, too, was spent “without any contract or procurement process whatsoever,” Ferguson said.
In recent years, Motorola has received $73.4 million in contracts from the city, most of them tied to digital radios and computer-aided dispatch.