By Bob Uphues
A proposal to install surveillance cameras at key entry/exit points in Riverside has new life after village trustees on March 1 gave Police Chief Thomas Weitzel the go-ahead to gather more information about their usefulness in identifying people suspected of committing crimes, where they might be installed and how much a camera network would cost.
Weitzel told the Landmark he hopes to have more information for the village board within the next 90 days.
"I'm going to get as much evidence to give the board a reason to justify looking at it," said Weitzel. "Then it'll be a policy decision for the board."
It's not the first time Weitzel's been tasked with taking a look at a surveillance camera network for key entry/exit points in Riverside. In 2014, Weitzel estimated it would cost roughly $180,000 to place cameras at 16 locations along the village's borders, but the board eventually decided it didn't want to put such an expense into its 2015 budget.
Now it appears that if Riverside officials move ahead with a camera system, it will be more of a pilot program involving a smaller number of cameras. Weitzel said he hopes to identify three to six important exit points for the board.
On March 1, Weitzel identified the Barrypoint Road bridge, Harlem/Longcommon, Burlington/Harlem, First/Forest, 31st Street/Desplaines as possible locations for the cameras.
"When the criminals come in here, if they don't get lost by our streets at night time, they seem to exit through … the straight streets," Weitzel said. "That's where they seem to flee when something happens."
Implementing such a system would cost between $12,000 to $15,000 per camera plus annual costs for maintenance and computer hardware to store the video.
Weitzel has already compiled some information from the villages of Elmhurst and Burr Ridge, which have surveillance camera systems. Riverside Trustee Doug Pollock, who serves as the village administrator of Burr Ridge, is an enthusiastic booster for the cameras.
Pollock was the one who initially pushed for a system in Riverside in 2014, and says they've proven to be an important part of police investigations in Burr Ridge.
"I'm a very strong supporter of doing this," said Pollock during a discussion of the matter at the March 1 village board meeting.
Pollock said the Burr Ridge program started with cameras at the entries of two or three subdivisions and was so successful in helping solve crimes that cameras have now been installed at the entries to 14 subdivisions in that village.
"For $100,000 to $150,000 one-time expense, we could have a full camera system at every single-entry way and exit point of this village," Pollock said. "So that if a crime occurs in town by somebody from out of town, they can't get away without their license plate being recorded."
Weitzel said that private surveillance camera videos from Riverside Foods in downtown Riverside and a red-light camera at Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road were critical in identifying a vehicle and arresting two people suspected of being involved in a drive-by shooting on East Burlington Street in December 2017.
In addition to helping solve crimes in Elmhurst and Burr Ridge, Weitzel told trustees on March 1, the cameras have also served to debunk bogus crime scares.
Riverside resident Lindsay Morrison asked, given a recent report on Riverside's low incidents of crime, whether such a system was worth the expense. She said she hoped there would be solid data to justify it.
"A little bit more definitive numbers around that would be helpful to understand if that's something that we would want to spend money on as a village," Morrison said.
But, Riverside resident Therese Dolezal said she wished there would have been cameras to document an incident where she was a victim of a crime on one of Riverside's streets.
"Having those cameras at those entrances would have been pretty crucial in the final criminal case that didn't go fully to fruition," Dolezal said.
If trustees decide to move ahead, the village likely would need to seek proposals from companies, select a vendor and then build the expense into the village's 2019 capital budget.