Businessmen seek $5 million in TIF funding to install surveillance cameras in Fulton Market, Garfield Park

The ACLU of Illinois has repeatedly raised alarms about such cameras, warning last year that the city’s camera system “continues to operate without any regulation or privacy or regular public reporting.”

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A group of business and community leaders wants to use $5 million in tax increment financing money to buy 200 new surveillance cameras for the Fulton Market and Garfield Park areas.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A small group of business and community leaders urged city officials Monday to use $5 million in tax increment financing money to buy 200 surveillance cameras for the swanky Fulton Market District and the historically violent Garfield Park area.

Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, said the additional police observation devices, or POD cameras, can be used to “help our understaffed police officers fight and defeat the criminals in our city.”

“Our streets are running with blood. We have to put a tourniquet on the crime spree that’s happening in our city,” said Romanelli, who used the online news conference to highlight two recent shootings that each left one person wounded and were caught by private cameras. One shows people ducking for cover when gunfire erupted outside a restaurant in Fulton Market; the other shows gunmen open fire on a ride-hailing service driver in West Garfield Park.

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Roger Romanelli (top left) leads a virtual news conference calling for $5 million in TIF funding to pay for 200 new surveillance cameras in the Fulton Market and Garfield Park areas.

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The city’s first POD cameras were installed nearly two decades ago, but Romanelli and the other speakers were unable to point to any data showing they have brought crime down. They are part of a broader network using tens of thousands of cameras.

The ACLU of Illinois has repeatedly raised alarms about the POD cameras, warning last February that the city’s camera system “continues to operate without any regulation or privacy or regular public reporting.”

ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said promises that the cameras will reduce crime simply haven’t materialized.

“It’s been this long-term kind of shadow game of saying just one more set of cameras will be effective, this is what we need,” Yohnka said. “It never works, and the answer is always more of the cameras.”

As violent crime surged last year, police officials pressured alderpersons to use money allocated to them on surveillance cameras and automated license plate readers. The Daily Line reported in January that alderpersons spent more than $4.3 million of those so-called menu funds on the cameras in 2021 — quadrupling the total from the previous year.

In October of 2021, former Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was using her menu money for cameras but also urged residents of her affluent ward on the Near North Side to personally pitch in for more, estimating each camera cost $25,000.

A pole-mounted Chicago Police Department surveillance camera on the Near North Side.

A Chicago Police Department surveillance camera is seen on a light pole in a high-crime area on the city’s Near North Side on Dec. 29, 2004.

Associated Press

Shootings and homicides have fallen significantly this year, but crime overall has risen.

Romanelli said Chicago police “need every possible tool, every advantage to deter the criminals, and if necessary, to arrest and prosecute the criminals.”

Using the same cost estimate as Smith, Romanelli urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot and alderpersons Walter Burnett (27th) and Jason Ervin (28th) to pull money from two TIF districts to purchase 200 cameras, which would be split between Fulton Market and Garfield Park.

Lightfoot, Ervin, Burnett and Police Supt. David Brown didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“Chicago must become safer,” Romanelli insisted in pushing the plan.

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