River Forest is a step closer to a village-wide street camera program following action by the village board on Dec. 12.
The five trustees present voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of Police Chief Jim O’Shea and authorize the village’s contracted vendor, Griffon Systems, to install street cameras and related hardware and software for $105,114. Trustee Bob O’Connell did not attend the meeting.
The eight cameras will be installed at six intersections in the middle zone of the village, the area between Lake Street and Augusta Boulevard and between Thatcher and Harlem avenues. The cost will be covered by the Capital Improvement Fund where the purchase was budgeted for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
The Dec. 12 action follows similar action taken in January, which led to the installation of seven street cameras in the area bounded by Madison and Washington streets and Lathrop and Thatcher avenues.
O’Shea explained that the original camera program began in the Lake Street corridor using tax increment financing funds approximately 14 years ago. The project covered the area between Lake Street and Central Avenue from Lathrop Avenue to Harlem Avenue.
Over the years, several new cameras were installed moving west on Lake Street to Thatcher Avenue and covering the Metra-owned and village-owned parking lots on Thatcher.
Locations for the middle zone cameras are Thatcher and Augusta; Lathrop and Augusta; Harlem and Augusta; Thatcher and Chicago Avenue; Lathrop and Chicago; and Harlem and Chicago. To improve coverage, two cameras will be installed at two intersections each, Harlem and Augusta and Thatcher and Chicago.
In 2020, a feasibility study was conducted to develop a plan to install additional cameras in the three zones – south, middle and north. The final phase in the program, installing nine cameras in the north zone, from Division Street to North Avenue, is expected to be proposed for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins May 1, 2023. An additional phase will address gaps in the program by installing eight additional cameras.
O’Shea said the high-definition cameras will be installed on main streets. They will be motion-activated and operate around the clock. Images will be retained for 90 days.
“Public cameras are considered a cost-effective way to deter, document and reduce crime,” O’Shea said in a memo to Brian Murphy, village administrator. “In addition, these systems provide enhanced customer service to victims of crimes and help develop crime prevention strategies. Street camera systems also further transparency and accountability in government operations.”
O’Shea said that the cameras are not speed cameras or red-light cameras nor will they have the capability to provide license plate images or perform facial recognition.
In addition to providing officer transparency and officer accountability, O’Shea said the cameras can aid searches for missing people, identify weather conditions and assist with accident investigations.
He said the program also provides assistance to other nearby police departments that might be seeking a suspect or a suspect’s vehicle if it crossed a boundary from another municipality into River Forest. According to O’Shea, village officials have received nearly 1,800 requests for video footage from other jurisdictions since 2016.
O’Shea described the village’s street camera system as a very successful force multiplier, crime prevention tool, evidence-gathering application, police accountability device and overall situational awareness tool.
He also said the middle zone has been exposed to slight increases in burglaries to automobiles, auto thefts and garage burglaries. Residents in this area have also seen increased violent crimes on the village’s borders in the communities of Forest Park, Oak Park and Maywood.