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More than 3,000 cameras now at CTA stations

05-21-10 CTA Brown Line, Paulina station, Chicago - A surveillance camera hangs off the stairwell at the Paulina Brown Line station Friday in Chicago. Every CTA rail station will have one or more surveillance cameras by the end of May, - JOHN J. KIM ~ SUN-TIMES

They helped snare the alleged Indian Head Park murderer, two other accused killers and 44 other suspects since June.

Now the 1,800 extra security cameras Mayor Rahm Emanuel this summer vowed to install at CTA rail stations are all in place – six weeks ahead of schedule, the mayor announced Monday as he gave his administration a big pat on the back.

“The cameras have caught criminals but also serve as a deterrent, helping to ensure the highest level of security for our transit system,” Emanuel said at a press conference held at the Clinton Green Line station, describing the cameras as the latest step in upgrading an L system that recently received new trains.

Cameras installed at the station late last month provided evidence that led to the Nov. 2 arrest of a man suspected of a series of violent robberies on CTA property and the city streets, officials said. The robber was caught on camera using stolen credit cards to buy tickets following a mace attack on a CTA worker on October 28 and an Oct. 14 car break-in.

Emanuel also pointed to how the camera network – which now has more than 3,000 cameras across all 144 stations – had helped police get a good look at John L. Wilson, accused of the Oct. 27 murder of west suburban teen Kelli O’Laughlin.

He acknowledged that it may take time for the cameras to make passengers feel safer, but highlighted the case of a rider who scared off a broken-bottle wielding would-be robber at the UIC Halsted station on Nov. 7 by pointing to a platform camera.

Asked if the proliferation of Big Brother-style cameras could ever result in there being too many cameras on Chicago’s streets and public places, he declined to directly answer but said, “I don’t measure it that way…I measure it [in terms of] are we giving the people the insurance they need?”

Three-to-five dedicated Chicago Police officers monitor the feeds from the 3,000 cameras at any given time, Cmdr. John Graeber said.

Live feeds are also piped into the 911 call center and into each police district, though the cameras are mostly used after the fact to search for evidence, CTA president Forrest Claypool said. Police have sought footage in 153 cases since Emanuel announced the upgrade in June, he said.

The limits of cameras’ effectiveness to deter crime were demonstrated in April when a group of teens used cell phone cameras to film themselves attacking a defenseless homeless man on the Red line’s Chicago station. Though police were able to identify the attacker and the victim when the video was posted on the internet, the victim has so far declined to press charges, Graeber said.