NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 8, 2010

Chicago has the most extensive and sophisticated video surveillance system in the United States -- consequently, it is transforming what it means to be in public in the Windy City, says the Associated Press (AP). 

In less than a decade and with little opposition, the city has linked thousands of cameras -- on street poles and skyscrapers, aboard buses and in train tunnels -- in a network covering most of the city. Officials can watch video live at a sprawling emergency command center, police stations and even some squad cars. 

"I don't think there is another city in the United States that has as an extensive and integrated camera network as Chicago has," says Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary: 

  • New York has plenty of cameras, but about half of the 4,300 installed along the city's subways don't work.
  • Other cities haven't been able to link networks like Chicago; Baltimore, for example, doesn't integrate school cameras with its emergency system and it can't immediately send 911 dispatchers video from the camera nearest to a call like Chicago can.
  • Even London -- widely considered the world's most closely watched city with an estimated 500,000 cameras -- doesn't incorporate private cameras in its system as Chicago does. 

While critics decry the network as the biggest of Big Brother invasions of privacy, most Chicago residents accept them as a fact of life in a city that has always had a powerful local government and police force.  And authorities say the system helps them respond to emergencies in a way never before possible.  

The network began less than a decade ago with a dozen cameras installed in Grant Park to deter violence during the annual Taste of Chicago festival.  It now includes private cameras as well as those installed by a variety of public agencies. 

While authorities won't say exactly how many cameras are included, with 1,500 installed by emergency officials, 6,500 in city schools and many more at public and private facilities, nobody disputes an estimate of 10,000 and growing.  

Source: Don Babwin, "Cameras make Chicago most closely watched US city," Associated Press, March 6, 2010. 


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