At about 8:25 a.m., a woman parked her car outside Alphabet Learning Center on Grand Boulevard to drop off a child. She left her keys in the unlocked car while she went inside.
When she came back outside, the car was gone – stolen by a homeless 29-year-old man who happened to be walking by just at that moment. She didn’t see who the man was, but police were able to catch the theft courtesy of a new high-definition camera that pans the Grand Boulevard/Brookfield Avenue area 24 hours a day.
Police were also able to track part of the man’s getaway, when another camera at Eight Corners picked up the car as it headed north on Maple Avenue. Chicago police later that day arrested the man and charged him with criminal trespass to a vehicle.
But, Brookfield police, with the help of the video evidence from the cameras, were able to charge him with motor vehicle theft after the man, confronted with the video, admitted taking the car.
“In today’s world, this is how police solve crimes,” said Police Chief James Episcopo. “This has been on our bucket list for a long time.”
Over the past month, 10 new high-definition, five megapixel cameras have been installed at key points of the village courtesy of a $10,000 grant from the ComEd Powering Safe Communities program, which the village applied for last year through the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
The grant paid for about half the cost of the cameras and their attendant computer equipment and installation. In their initial application, police had hoped the grant might be able to provide 20 cameras, and the department hopes to be able to add more in coming years through their own budget.
Two cameras monitor the eastbound and westbound approaches to the intersection of Maple Avenue and 31st Street, and there are two more at Eight Corners. One at Eight Corners is a stationary camera scanning west from the east side of the circle. Another pans the circle, catching areas the other can’t reach.
Another panning camera covers the north side of the tracks in the Grand/Brookfield/Prairie area, while a stationary camera monitors the intersection of Prairie and Burlington avenues.
There are three cameras in the vicinity of Ehlert Park, one monitoring the main parking lot and basketball court and another panning the area around the skate park.
Then there’s one at 31st Street and McCormick Avenue, the entrance to Cantata Adult Living Services.
“The goal is to have cameras at access points,” said Detective Lt. James Burdett, who is the department’s expert on the system. “They aren’t there so we can write tickets. They are purely public safety cameras.”
For now, 10 cameras are live and nine of them provide live video of those locations 24/7 directly to the detectives’ office at the police department. Of course, the cameras aren’t monitored by police regularly, but they have already used video stored in the system to solve some crimes and provide evidence.
Police were able to use the cameras to identify a man suspected of stealing items from Leo’s Liquors and have captured video of a recent hit-and-run at Eight Corners, which may help them find the offender in that incident.
“They’re a great investigative tool, but it requires a lot of manpower to use them,” Burdett said.
Burdett has been working to tweak the cameras. The camera at 31st and McCormick, for example, is in operation but can’t yet provide a live feed to the department because of signal issues.
And the reason there aren’t any cameras along Ogden Avenue yet, is because the power provided to the poles is incompatible with the system. The cost to rewire the poles is cost-prohibitive, said Burdett, but if the lighting on Ogden is switched over to LED in the future, they will become candidates for cameras, which cost about $1,200 apiece.
“Hopefully there will be more to come,” Burdett said. “Money is the issue.”