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Jury Still Out on Blue Light Cameras

By Chris Bentley in News on Sep 20, 2011 9:20PM

Ten years after Chicago Police rolled out blue-light cameras to keep watch in high-crime neighborhoods, a new study says the program’s impact is still not clear.

D.C.-based think tank The Urban Institute compared crime statistics in sections of Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park with data from similar areas not under surveillance.

The study released Monday found cameras alone reduced crime by 12 percent in parts of Humboldt Park from 2001 to 2006. But in West Garfield Park they found no decrease.

The authors say the difference could be density — there were 53 cameras per square mile in the Humboldt Park study area, compared to only 36 in the West Garfield Park area.

But police behavior also played a role, they wrote:

Findings indicate that in places where cameras were sufficiently concentrated and routinely monitored by trained staff, the impact on crime was significant and cost-beneficial, with no evidence of crime displacement.

In the two neighborhoods, the cameras cost a total of $190,000 per month to operate and monitor, a figure The Urban Institute said was justified by the crime decrease in Humboldt Park alone.

But those opposing the cameras say they infringe on privacy and have no demonstrable effect on crime. Statistical support for crime-fighting cameras has long been disputed. And camera support is typically not enough to convict in court, as the Sun-Times reported:

Officers have made more than 5,000 camera-related arrests since 2006, said Lt. Maureen Biggane, a Chicago Police spokeswoman. But prosecutors said other evidence is normally needed to win a conviction.

The mixed results renew both scrutiny and support for the widespread practice. There are roughly 2,000 blue-light cameras across the city.