*I won’t be going back to Chicago anytime soon ;)*
Mayor Daley has argued that security and terrorism won’t be an issue if his Olympic dreams come true because, by 2016, there will be a surveillance camera on every street corner in Chicago.
But even before that blanket coverage begins, the “Big Brother’’ network is being put to better use.
Call takers and dispatchers now see real-time video if there is a surveillance cameras within 150 feet of a 911 call, thanks to a $6 million upgrade to the city’s “computer-aided dispatch” system.
When live video appears, call takers can pan, tilt and zoom those cameras to get the best possible view of a crime or disaster scene.
“As a first responder, I can’t tell you how important it is to have a set of eyes on an emergency scene prior to your arrival. The valuable information they provide from the camera network can ultimately mean the difference between life and death,” said Ray Orozco, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
“Whether you send one ambulance or three, two squad cars or four, it all depends upon the information we are able to gather from the 911 caller,” said Orozco, a former fire commissioner.
During a December test, live video was used to catch a petty thief in the act of sticking his hand in a Salvation Army kettle outside Macy’s on State Street.
But, the crime-fighting potential is “limitless,” said Police Superintendent Jody Weis.
“You know what the suspect’s vehicle might be. It can give us instant leads. . . . We may get some information from that where we may not even respond to that location. We could actually get ahead of it and go to a place where that vehicle maybe was last seen or the individual might be running to,” Weis said.
And, “If we can warn our officers of any dangers they’re facing ahead of time, it’s a tremendous advantage.”
Although the city’s vast surveillance network includes cameras installed at private businesses, universities and homes, Orozco said civil libertarians have nothing to fear.
“We do not and we will not take access to any camera inside of a building,’’ he said. When the city accesses private cameras, workers only see “what you would see if you were sitting on a park bench in front of that building,” he said.
In 2004, City Hall used a $5.1 million federal homeland security grant to install 250 cameras at locations thought to be at high risk of a terrorist attack and link them and 2,000 existing city cameras to the 911 center.
Chicago then launched “Operation Virtual Shield,’’ by linking 1,000 miles of fiber cable to a unified “homeland security grid’’ — complete with hundreds of additional cameras and sensors to monitor the city’s water supply and detect chemical and biological weapons.
On Thursday, Orozco refused to say how many cameras are currently linked to the 911 center. But, he reiterated Daley’s earlier promise.
“We’re going to grow the system until we eventually cover one end of the city to the other,” he said.