Park advocates say security cameras in the Chicago Park area of ​​Oz Park, elsewhere don’t do the job

The Chicago Park District’s security camera program is under fire from park advocates and some Chicago City Council members, who say they are costly but worthless as a deterrent to crime in neighborhood parks.

Some city officials say the cameras, rarely monitored by park staff, are substandard to connect to the city’s emergency management office and communications systems.

In some cases, park officials have encouraged neighborhood residents to raise thousands of dollars to purchase monitoring equipment, but say they can’t get answers as to why they aren’t working.

“We really wish the park area made it clear to our neighbors what the limits of the cameras are,” Ald said. Michelle Smith, 43, who said she tried for weeks to get footage from the $5,800 camera system at Oz Park in Lincoln Park. “They certainly wouldn’t have had it under the circumstances.”

“We are only half a step away from not having them,” said Anthony Porfirio, chair of the Hass Park advisory board, where eight cameras were installed in the park’s $4 million field house in 2011.

In April, the Better Government Association reported that most of the approximately 90 park area cameras are located in affluent neighborhoods with the least amount of crime, such as Oz Park, and a few are in parks with the most reported crime.

Michelle Lemon, a spokeswoman for Rosa Escarino, Parks Manager for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, did not tell how the cameras are monitored or answer other questions about the safety program but emphasized that “surveillance cameras are monitored to detect and address activities that may compromise the safety of the park.”

Police records showed that in the whole of 2021, one crime – a minor battery – was reported in Oz Park.

But outrage in the neighborhood over security followed on June 1, 2021, a shooting nearby in which police said a 17-year-old boy shot a group of other teens who were standing in the 2000 North Burling Street building in Lincoln’s parking lot. Park High School, injuring another teenager in the arm. Records show the 17-year-old has been charged with unlawful aggravated use of a weapon and two additional felony counts.

After the shooting, neighbors began making “tours for safety” and called on city officials and police to increase foot patrols around the 21-acre park.

“It scared a lot of adults,” said Shannon Waterfield, who often visits Oz Park and whose two children attended Lincoln Park High School. “Think twice before going there now.”

Officer Ramona Stovall and Sgt. Christopher Schenk meets with community residents about safety and policing on June 4, 2021, near Oz Park.

Smith said she began asking Chicago Park County officials about camera operations overlooking Oz Park after the shooting. Both cameras were installed in 2019, after neighbors hosted a fundraiser.

Smith said she did not get any of the surveillance footage despite trying several times by phone and email to reach the park area security office.

“Having a camera in the park area wasn’t a good thing in Oz Park,” Smith said. “It wasn’t easy to get to the events as they were happening or even after that.”

Smith said the camera isn’t regularly monitored by park area staff, and isn’t high enough to be tied into a cloud of security footage for the Office of Emergency Management.

She and members of the Parks Advisory Council said 18th District police officials told them the camera system was not good enough to provide real surveillance. Smith said she is considering using discretionary funds to purchase and install an OEMC camera that can be connected to the city’s surveillance network.

Jodi Johansson, chair of the Oz Park Advisory Board, who has advocated for the campaign to bring security cameras into the park, said the community had been duped. Johansson said the recommended camera vendor in the park advised her to buy two Honeywell Pool cameras. She said if she had known about the problems, she would not have bought them.

“I wish someone would tell us,” she said.

On the Lower West Side, Ald. Byron Seigshaw-Lopez (25) said he’s faced a similar lack of communication from park officials about Fusco Park.

“There is a severe lack of coordination from the park area on security measures,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Prior to the summer program, Sigcho-Lopez said he tried to coordinate with the park’s area security team, but his requests were ignored.

The BGA reported in April that the park district repeatedly cited a lack of funds to deny requests to place cameras in largely black and brown neighborhoods with higher levels of reported crime in 2021.

Since 2013, the county has installed nearly 90 cameras in 16 parks, most of them in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods with far fewer reported crimes — including Fusco and two other parks with unreported crimes last year.

sydney king He is a reporter for a newspaper Better government association.

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