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Police Bought Mobile Surveillance Tower For Keeping Tabs On NATO Protesters

By aaroncynic in News on May 25, 2012 4:00PM

Image via TerraHawk's Website.

In addition to the many surveillance cameras Chicago police had on the ground and perched on rooftops to monitor protesters at the NATO summit, the Sun-Times reports Chicago Police also purchased a mobile surveillance tower to watch and record demonstrators. The ordinary looking van, with a cab attached to the top via a folding gate, was purchased for $227,064 under a no-bid contract. According to the Sun-Times, the unit is operated by one person, fully operational within 2 minutes, and can extend to 25 feet in the air.

Marvin J. Shear, executive officer of CPD’s Bureau of Administration wrote in a letter justifying the purchase:

“The TerraHawk will provide an essential new layer of security — deterrence, detection, response — for Chicago transit operations and assets. It will also provide Chicago Police Department special teams with enhanced capability to intervene in difficult situations. … It will provide command staff with confidence that officers can be quickly positioned to observe potential life-threatening situations in real-time and to immediately react and relay critical information to emergency response personnel.”

A representative for the Chicago Police Department said the vehicle was deployed mainly to assist in the Metra security plan. Representatives from TerraHawk, the company which makes the vehicle, refused to comment whether or not the vehicle was used to monitor the melee between police and protesters on Cermak at Michigan.

The mobile surveillance tower was not the only eye law enforcement agencies used to film demonstrators at the summit protests. The blog Shortwave America has a report on communications and command operations which were based on the Museum Campus which shows a surveillance system on a Coast Guard command post, as well as photos of some of the various helicopters which buzzed overhead day and night for weeks. Such measures are to be expected surrounding the summit, as the city played host to dignitaries and world leaders.

Law enforcement however, spent much time and effort monitoring and recording protesters. On Sunday’s march down Michigan Avenue, we spotted multiple rooftops with members of various law enforcement agencies shooting photos and video of demonstrators. On the second day of the summit, uniformed officers were spotted in the crowd in front of Obama campaign headquarters and again later in Grant Park with video cameras, taking close up footage of demonstrators. Often, protesters would film and photograph the officers and sometimes used their surveillance as a platform to opine on why they were protesting.

Chicago has the largest networked surveillance system in the United States, with more than 10,000 cameras networked together.