Community activist, Ald. Munoz at odds again over 'blue-light' police cameras in Little Village

Community activist, Ald. Munoz at odds again over 'blue-light' police cameras in Little Village
26th Street, Little Village Photo by Lucio Villa

In almost ritualistic fashion, Raul Montes, a Little Village community activist, scheduled a press conference and protest Tuesday at the Manuel Perez Plaza in Little Village.

He was there to publicly rally for the installation of Chicago Police Observational Devices--a.k.a. "blue-light" cameras--along 26th Street.

The Little Village press conference gathered a small band of supporters, but it's just one of countless Montes has held over nearly a half a decade.

The public rallies are usually sparked by a crime streak or some other topical hot-button event.

This time it followed recent news of a string of armed robberies of Little Village residents.

Montes argues that if Little Village had more blue-light security cameras, the neighborhood would see an overall reduction in crime.

At the end of 2011, the 10th Police District, which comprises Little Village, had the ninth-highest number of reported violent crimes and the fifth-highest number of homicides citywide, Chicago Magazine reported in December.

Blue-light cameras are just one of many issues Montes has rallied for over the years, but it's one that consistently seems to have fallen on deaf ears among city pols.

"We've gone to our local alderman [Ricardo Munoz] and he's shown a profound disinterest," Montes said.

He's also penned letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and 10th District Police Commander Maria Pena.

"I've gotten no response," Montes said. "Excuse my language, but it's bull----."

Montes calls himself an activist, and he's run for alderman and state senator in the past.

His persistence is driven by a desire to make the community safer, he says. And his quest for the cameras is supposedly shared by 1,500 residents whom he says have signed a petition in support of bringing the devices to 26th Street, the community's main commercial drag.

Montes also claims that Munoz's failure to bring more cameras to Little Village--particularly to 26th Street--exemplifies the alderman's willingness to turn a blind eye to gang behavior, in exchange for their political support.

This charge is outlined in greater depth in the aforementioned Chicago Magazine article.

"He's lying," Munoz casually said, of his former opponent for 22nd Ward Alderman, whom he also called "the perennial candidate."

"I'm not gonna react to that. Anybody that knows my record, knows that I have fought to bring more police, and worked to prevent crime," Munoz added.

Munoz is a self-admitted reformed Latin King gang member.

As for the cameras on 26th Street?

The 22nd Ward doesn't want them there, Munoz said.

"They want them in the neighborhoods, by the schools," the alderman said, noting that that's where they've been placed.

It's not completely clear why Munoz is hell-bent on keeping the cameras off 26th Street, which does frequently attract gang activity.

But, likewise, there's no strong evidence that suggests that the blue-light cameras will wipe out crime, at least not in the silver-bullet type of way Montes envisions when discussing them.

A study done by the Urban Institute last year found mixed results in two problematic neighborhoods--Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park.

One part of the study found that the cameras do reduce crime when they're clustered together.

But the cameras are also supposed to be used to follow up on criminal activity. The study found that because the footage is often so poor, video is usually useless when prosecuting a crime in court.

A more recent study, co-authored By Dr. Rajiv Shah, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of communications, similarly asserts that the cameras are optimally effective when clustered in high crime areas, or "hot spots".

Aside from the fact that these are the areas with the greatest need, it's more likely that police officers will actually be monitoring the cameras in these locations.

"Chicago has somewhere in the order 1,200 to 2,000 cameras, only [some of those] are just devoted to [Chicago] police," Shah told The Chicago Reporter, noting that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies might be watching other cameras, while others might not be monitored at all.

"The bad guys ... after a while, know which cameras are being watched and which ones aren’t. What I suggest is it’s best not to worry about these low- and medium-crime neighborhoods," he said.

"The idea championed by former Mayor Richard Daley of placing a camera on every corner results in the vast majority of those cameras having little or no impact on reducing crime," Shah told Science Daily in March.

As for Little Village, Munoz has no plans to bring cameras to 26th Street any time soon, or increase the number that are already in the 22nd Ward.

As for their effectiveness?

"The jury's still out," Munoz said.

Montes is unphased by this.

"We need more awareness about this, and Munoz just doesn't care," he said. "I'm persistent, I'm relentless, though."

He's also not ruling out another run for some type of elected office.

"I started as an activist to make changes, but if the opportunity were to arise, then yeah, why not."

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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