CHICAGO -- More than 2,000 surveillance cameras in public places would be tied in to a network that would use sophisticated software to spot emergencies or suspicious behavior under a plan announced yesterday by Mayor Richard Daley.
"Cameras are the equivalent of hundreds of sets of eyes. They are the next best thing to having police officers stationed at every potential trouble spot," Daley said.
Officials said the bulk of the cameras already are in use at O'Hare International Airport, on the city's transit lines and in public housing, parks and schools. An additional 250 surveillance cameras still to be bought will raise the number available to more than 2,000. Locations for the new cameras have not been determined.
The cameras would not all be continuously monitored. But software would be used to pick up out-of-the-ordinary activity on the video images, such as a bag being abandoned in a stairwell, a car pulling to the side of a highway, or movement in an area off-limits to people.
If the software picked up suspicious behavior, a staff member in the city's Office of Emergency Management would be alerted and could then notify police, medical personnel, or a tow truck -- whatever the situation called for.
Operators in the 911 center would be able to control the camera's image to help direct aid to a victim or gather evidence for police.
Daley dismissed privacy concerns, saying the only places where the city installs cameras are public spaces. But he said private companies could choose to join their cameras to the network -- for a yet-to-be-determined fee -- so that 911 operators would have access to those cameras should something go awry in a private building.
Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, said his organization is not concerned about the cameras as long as they record activity in public places.
State Senator Rickey Hendon, a Democrat, said cameras can be valuable when positioned at potential terrorist targets, such as airports or water-treatment plants, but he believes too many are in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
He proposed a law to limit the number of surveillance cameras police could install, but it failed in the state Assembly. "We can have police protection without spying on people who are doing nothing wrong," he said.