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High-Definition Security Cameras Are Now Ubiquitous on the CTA Rail System

A security camera on an ‘L’ platform. Photo: Carlton Holls

In February 2018, the city of Chicago announced that the CTA would be using revenue from the recently passed new tax on ride-hailing trips to fund a $33 million initiative dubbed the “Safe & Secure” program, including thousands of new and upgraded security cameras to help deter and solve crimes. The plan was to install 1,000 new cameras and upgrade more than 3,800 older-model cams throughout the system to high-definition video.

Today the city announced that the project has has reached a milestone in the project, with the entire rail system camera-equipped and 1,000 high-definition cameras installed, although the price tag has grown to $38 million. “Upgrading CTA’s surveillance network with state-of-the-art, high definition cameras will help ensure the safety and security of all passengers who rely on our bus and rail system to get to work, school and to destinations across our great city," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a statement.

Since May 2018, crews have been switching out old analog surveillance cameras with new HD cameras across all nine Red Line subway stations and all 12 Blue Line subway stations, as well as installing additional cams to improve surveillance coverage, according to the city. Altogether, 660 existing cameras were upgraded and 340 cameras were added, expanding the previous subway station camera coverage by more than 50 percent.

The CTA’s security camera network has more than doubled in size since 2011 and now has more than 32,000 cameras systemwide, the city said. On average, images taken from the CTA’s cameras have led to police making about 200 arrests a year. In March, cameras recently installed at the Roosevelt Red Line stop led to the arrest of three people who were later charged in connection with a fight that resulted in a CTA employee being stabbed. Upgraded cameras at the Jackson Blue Line stop also provided images that led to the arrest of a man now charged with attempted murder for pushing another man on the tracks in December.

Last month CBS reported that reported incidents of violent crime on CTA platforms increased from 263 cases in 2014, to 447 incidents in 2018.

The Safe & Secure program also includes new lighting, repairs and other improvements to enhance safety at all 145 CTA rail stations. New HD cameras will also be installed at more than 100 CTA bus turnaround locations and video monitors will be added to all CTA rail stations to aid personnel in monitoring station and customer activity.

The question of whether spending millions of dollars on surveillance is a good use of revenue from the ride-hailing tax is certainly open to debate. For what it's worth, money from the tax is also being used to fund a $179 million multiyear, citywide rail, railroad tie, and power upgrade project dubbed “FastTracks.”

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