The 21st century is coming to the River Forest Police Department, and local officials expect that will mean bad news for the bad guys.

At a presentation at village hall Dec. 17, Chief of Police Frank Limon unveiled a digital video surveillance system that will be installed in the Lake Street business district and in village hall. The cameras provide both high-resolution, real-time coverage of specific sites and archived video graphic evidence for use by criminal investigators.

Technology upgrades are currently in progress at village hall, including the police department and the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center. The installation work, which is being handled by Video Sound and Services of Northlake, is expected to be finished by March 1.

Installation in the village’s major retail area on Lake Street from Harlem Avenue to the Jewel Store parking lot will follow, with work expected to be finished by early spring.

Deputy Chief Greg Weiss said once the village hall work is done, staff will undergo training as technicians work out any bugs.

The Lake Street installations are awaiting two key elements: final approval from Forest Park for use of its water tower, and adjustments to the area’s electrical system.

“We are working collectively with the village of Forest Park on an intergovernmental agreement to access the use of their water tower,” said Weiss, who said installation should take “about a month” following the formal OK.

Officials aren’t keen on disclosing too many details of the system, but said it will utilize a collector mounted high on the Forest Park water tower to gather data from each of 10 pole-mounted cameras. The collector will aggregate that data and send it wirelessly to a site mounted on a cell tower behind village hall. The images will then be shown, in real time, on a monitor in the police department and two monitors in the dispatch center.

The quality of the system depends on the cameras used. The cameras to be installed along the town center can record identifiable images as far away as 500 feet. Other government agencies, such as school districts, can install exterior cameras able to capture images up to 75 feet.

Limon and others call the cameras “force multipliers,” that is, support technology that effectively increases the police department’s eyes on the street.

“You don’t have to have a squad there,” he said of the town center. “If you have 10 cameras out there, you have 10 sets of eyes on the street, without having a squad car rolling.”

Police also laud the increased officer safety aspects of cameras. Dispatchers handling emergency calls to areas under surveillance can visually monitor the situation in real time, and officers responding to the scene can view it ahead of time from their squad computers.

Referring to last year’s disaster exercise at Dominican University, part of which involved police entering the school library in search of a gunman, Limon said, “Cameras, they play an important role in getting inside a structure and letting us know what’s going on before we send people in.”

All video will be archived for 30 days, with the potential to serve as an investigative tool, allowing police to check back on activity and people related to crime incidents.

In fact, one component of the system already in place, digital video enhancement software, was utilized in January to create a clear photo of a shoplifting suspect that led to his arrest.

Building a village-wide system

Limon said his intention is to build an integrated system benefiting the schools, park district, library and any other agencies and businesses that wish to become involved.

“We did build a system with the thought of expanding it out,” said Limon. “We’ve got some pieces in place that we can leverage. The future strategy is to include everybody as part of the overall strategy of public cameras on the public way, to enhance safety in the village.”

The interest is there. The Dec. 17 meeting was attended by more than 20 officials from park districts, school districts, the townships and the village’s two universities.

“We have the people here, they’ve done the work already and we have a proven product that works,” said Limon.

The technology is becoming more affordable every year. Limon recalled his service commanding Chicago’s crime strategy and accountability section, where he oversaw the installation of the city’s first crime prevention cameras. At the time, cameras cost $36,000 a piece.

Those prices have fallen substantially. The 10 cameras installed in River Forest cost a total of $13,500 each, including installation and support software and hardware.

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