City to help pay for home security cameras, which CPD hopes to add to its network

Rebates to cover their cost were announced Monday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. They also can be used for outdoor motion sensor lighting and GPS trackers for cars.

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A video doorbell system.

Chicago residents who install a video doorbell or other security camera system can apply for a rebate from the city to help pay for it.

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Chicago home and small business owners concerned about violent crime will soon be eligible for rebates to defray the cost of security cameras, outdoor motion sensor lighting, cloud storage and vehicle GPS trackers.

For the fourth time in five days, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is offering a multi-million-dollar giveaway to Chicago residents in advance of a mayoral election now less than a year away.

Last week, it was 50,000 gas cards worth $150 each, 100,000 Ventra cards loaded with $50 apiece and 5,000 free bicycles, helmets, locks and lights for Chicagoans eager to try an alternative mode of transportation.

This week’s $5.3 million giveaway offers “rebates up to certain limits that cover the cost of outdoor security cameras and one year of cloud storage for video footage,” according to a city news release. The rebates also apply to outdoor motion sensor lighting and vehicle GPS trackers.

Homeowners will be eligible to receive “up to $225 per camera for a total of $450” in residential security expenses.

“That means that, if you would like to purchase a $50 camera, you can purchase multiple. We know of a lot of associations and other places that have multiple entrances,” said Tamara Mahal, chief coordination officer for the city’s Community Safety Coordination Center.

“You’ll also be eligible for certain subscription costs for the first year of cloud-based subscription. ... For lighting, you’ll be eligible for up to $100 per light. And for vehicular tracking devices, you’ll be eligible for up to $50 per device and up to one year’s subscription costs.”

The city has budgeted around $5.3 million through 2024 for the rebate program, said Mahal, who did not reveal where the money is coming from.

All subsidized camera systems will be registered with the Chicago Police Department as a way to increase coverage in crime-plagued neighborhoods and help provide inundated CPD officers with the video evidence they need to solve violent crime.

Lightfoot also urged Chicago homeowners and small business owners to register their existing cameras with the Chicago Police Department.

The rebate program — and a $1 million fundraising drive for what Lightfoot billed as the largest gun turn-in program in Chicago history — follows suggestions made during a series of town hall meetings on public safety.

Installation should not be a roadblock, the mayor said.

“If you’ve been wanting to get a camera for your home, for your business, but haven’t taken the step or if money has been a prohibition, this is the time to step up. And if you’re like me— not so handy with the tools, but want to take advantage of this — we can help you with that as well,” Lightfoot said at a news conference at Chicago Tabernacle, 3231 N. Cicero Ave.

“This technology will create a visible crime deterrent and provide tremendous access and assistance to CPD’s investigations, undoubtedly boosting their efforts to hold criminals accountable and solve crimes much more quickly.”

Lightfoot stressed the program is voluntary, but with a catch.

“If you sign up and you get the rebate, we want you to register your camera with CPD,” the mayor said. “That footage is really important. So many crimes have been solved over this last year alone because we’ve been able to tap into residential video or video with the owner’s consent. This will just speed up that process. We’ve got a network of registrations already. Detectives will know exactly where to go.”

CPD Supt. David Brown urged every Chicago resident and business owner to register their existing camera systems.

“Video is a crucial, crucial part of solving all crimes, but particularly homicides and shootings,” Brown said, citing two recent examples of a burglary and a carjacking solved by already-registered cameras.

Chicago police work the scene where two people, including a 3-year-old, were shot during an attempted carjacking in the 7900 block of South King Drive in the Chatham neighborhood on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

Chicago police at the scene of an attempted carjacking in January in the Chatham neighborhood. Two people were shot, including a 3-year-old, in the 7900 block of South King Drive.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Brown assured participating home and business owners CPD does not have direct access to registered camera systems. Nor can the police department access camera footage without a home or business owner’s consent. And participating home and business owners are not required to provide footage to CPD — even after a crime.

“Your authorization is always required for you to share that footage,” Brown said.

“The camera system is your property and you have the right to refuse any request. Your information will not be shared with anyone. And you can also request that your information be removed at any time.”

Lightfoot said she isn’t comfortable with the idea “that we’re just gonna tap into those cameras automatically, even if the technology would allow” CPD to do just that.

“We’ve got to win the confidence and the faith of our residents and not have a Big-Brother-esque camera system,” she said.

The mayor noted some more affluent Chicago neighborhoods are loaded with security cameras while communities “with a long history of violent crime” have comparatively few.

“Those are the very areas that we would be very interested in helping homeowners get access to a variety of different options. ... We don’t want cost to be an impediment,” Lightfoot said.

In countless meetings with community organizations and block club leaders, Mahal said she heard repeatedly that more people would have security cameras if there were some financial assistance. A single doorbell camera could cost “upwards of $200,” she noted.

“This is a needed resource ... especially in our most vulnerable communities,’ Mahal added.

Some on the City Council — which has not yet approved the parade of mayoral giveaways — were suspicious of the mayor’s motives.

“There’s a pattern here. It’s Christmas in April,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who is mulling a campaign for mayor against Lightfoot.

“These generous giveaways using taxpayer dollars are an obvious attempt to buy favorable support. … We’re getting into campaign season. That changes everything. She’s a politically unpopular mayor. That’s a fact. Whether she can gain support in the City Council for what may be an obvious political ploy remains to be seen.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), another potential mayoral challenger, found out about the latest freebie after a briefing on the gas and Ventra giveaways.

During at least one briefing, suspicious alderpersons demanded to know whether the cards being customized for the city — or the brochure sent with the cards — will include Lightfoot’s name or a message from the mayor.

If they do, there could be significant City Council opposition, sources said.

“We’re just giving away everything. I just don’t think that’s the proper way to govern — giving stuff away. I have a real problem with it,” Sawyer said.

“We should make life better for everyone. Not just give away some trinkets and make people feel better. That’s not real relief. That’s a temporary fix. That’s a Band-Aid.”

Potential mayoral challenger Paul Vallas called the camera rebate a desperate move by a mayor destined to serve just one term.

Instead of giving stuff away, Vallas urged Lightfoot to provide broad-based relief by canceling the automatic escalator tying annual property tax increases to the rate of inflation.

“She has absolutely no answer to the public safety challenges the city is facing, so she resorts to these gimmicks. It’s questionable use of stimulus money and once again, disrespecting the City Council. Doing things unilaterally without even consulting the City Council,” Vallas said.

“When she’s not manipulating or distorting [crime] data, she’s resorting to … meaningless things that are more p.r. than substantive, like handing out these cameras. It’s clearly a political act of desperation and further evidence that they absolutely do not know what they’re doing.”

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