A proposal to accept a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to install wireless cameras at certain “vulnerable” sites in Riverside sparked a debate on the wisdom of accepting federal anti-terrorism funds at the Riverside village board meeting on July 18.
Police Chief Eugene Karczewski said the $25,000 grant would allow the village to purchase monitoring equipment and two or three wireless cameras. They would be placed at sites in the village that might be more vulnerable to crime, such as the entrances of the village hall and Riverside Brookfield High School.
Because the cameras are wireless, Karczewski said, police would be able to monitor them from not only the station but also squad cars. The cameras would mostly be used in cases of theft, but Karczewski said that for other, more serious incidents, they would give officers the advantage of being able to see exactly what’s going on at a crime scene before they arrive.
“It would be nice for the police officer to know what he’s going in to face, seeing the person, knowing the suspect already before he even gets there,” Karczewski said. “To me, as a police officer, I would love to have that.”
While all village trustees seemed to agree the cameras could be valuable to the department, objections arose over the source of the grant. The funds were provided through an agreement between the Department of Homeland Security and the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, where more than $6.7 million was provided to 200 Illinois municipalities to help prepare them for potential terrorist attacks. In its application for the grant, the Riverside Police requested the funds in order to “target-harden” facilities in the village they determined were most vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Trustee Kevin Smith was very vocal in his opposition to the grant, arguing that the language of the program generates unnecessary fear and diverts money away from more valuable programs, such as education.
“Safety in schools is one thing, but this is being done under the guise of terrorism,” Smith said. “By spreading fear around, we’re really denigrating the seriousness of terrorism by reducing it to the level of using cameras to monitor who comes in and out of high schools.
“This is a lot of tax money that is being diverted from other things to guard against terrorist attacks in places I don’t think are going to be terrorist targets.”
Karczewski said there was no reason to suspect terrorist attacks at RB or anywhere else in the village, but argued that unexpected attacks, such as those at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col., and at a middle school in Beslan, Russia, had occurred in the past, and the cameras would be valuable for crimes unrelated to terrorism. He noted that 25 percent of the calls Riverside Police receive every year come from RB.
“This is not only about terrorism activity,” Karczewski said. “But on our day-to-day activity, it would be advantageous for a police officer to know what he’s going in there to face, if there is an armed intruder in the building. Not a terrorist, but maybe an irate parent, something that could occur on any day in any community in the United States of America.”
Village President Harold J. Wiaduck was also in favor of the grant, saying that while he understood Smith’s argument, he thought the interests of protecting residents was more important.
“I share your concern about creating fear, but the fact of the matter is that these things are happening,” Wiaduck said, “and the people who are charged with trying to provide protection, I think, should have the best tools they can have to be able to protect the citizenry.”
In the end, the board voted 4-2 to approve the grant, with trustees Smith and Thomas Shields casting the dissenting votes.
Under the conditions of the grant, the money will have to be spent by the end of the year. Karczewski said the exact sites where the cameras will be installed haven’t been decided yet, but in discussions with RB administrators, they seemed open to having them placed at the school.