City to offer rebates for home security cameras

Chicago home and small business owners concerned about violent crime will soon be eligible for “rebates up to certain limits” to defray the cost of security cameras, outdoor motion sensor lighting and vehicle GPS trackers.

For the fourth time in five days, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is offering a multi-million-dollar giveaway to Chicago residents in advance of a mayoral election that’s now less than a year away.

Last week, it was 50,000 gas cards worth $150 each, 100,000 Ventra cards loaded with $50 apiece and 5,000 free bicycles, helmets, locks and lights for Chicagoans eager to try an alternative mode of transportation.

This week’s $5.3 million giveaway offers “rebates up to certain limits that cover the cost of outdoor security cameras and one-year of cloud storage for video footage.” The unspecified rebates will also cover outdoor motion sensor lighting and vehicle GPS trackers.

Homeowners will be eligible to receive “up to $225-per-camera for a total of $450” in residential security expenses.

“That means that, if you would like to purchase a $50 camera, you can purchase multiple. We know of a lot of associations and other places that have multiple entrances,’ said Tamara Mahal, chief coordination officer for the city’s Community Safety Coordination Center.

“You’ll also be eligible for certain subscription costs for the first year of cloud-based subscription. … For lighting, you’ll be eligible for up to $100 per light. And for vehicular tracking devices, you’ll be eligible for up to $50 per device and up to one year’s subscription costs.”

Though the city has budgeted “around $5.3 million” for the entire rebate program, according to Hall, she did not reveal where the money is coming from.

All subsidized camera systems will be registered with the Chicago Police Department to serve as a force-multiplier in crime-plagued neighborhoods and help provide inundated CPD officers with the video evidence they need to solve violent crime.

Lightfoot also urged Chicago homeowners and small business owners to register their existing cameras with the Chicago Police Department.

The rebate program — and a $1 million fundraising drive for what Lightfoot billed as the largest gun turn-in program in Chicago history — lists suggestions made during a series of town hall meetings on public safety.

“If you’ve been wanting to get a camera for your home, for your business, but haven’t taken the step or if money has been a prohibition, this is the time to step up. And if you’re like me—not so handy with the tools, but want to take advantage of this—we can help you with that as well. Don’t let the installation be” a roadblock, Lightfoot said at a news conference at Chicago Tabernacle, 3231 N. Cicero Ave.

She added, “This technology will create a visible crime deterrent and provide tremendous access and assistance to CPD’s investigations, undoubtedly boosting their efforts to hold criminals accountable and solve crimes much more quickly.”

Lightfoot stressed the program is voluntary, but added: “If you sign up and you get the rebate, we want you to register your camera with CPD.”

“That footage is really important. So many crimes have been solved over this last year alone because we’ve been able to tap into residential video or video with the owner’s consent. This will just speed up that process. We’ve got a network of registrations already. Detectives will know exactly where to go,” she said.

CPD Supt. David Brown urged every Chicago resident and business owner to register their existing camera systems.

“Video is a crucial, crucial part of solving all crimes, but particularly homicides and shootings,” Brown said, citing two recent examples of a burglary and a carjacking solved by already-registered cameras.

Brown assured participating home and business owners of CPD will not have direct access to registered camera systems.

Nor can the police department access camera footage without a home or business owner’s consent. There is also no requirement that participating home and business owners provide footage to CPD — even after a crime.

“Your authorization is always required for you to share that footage,” Brown said.

“The camera system is your property and you have the right to refuse any request. Your information will not be shared with anyone. And you can also request that your information be removed at any time.”

Lightfoot said she is “not comfortable with the idea that we’re just gonna tap into those cameras automatically, even if the technology would allow” CPD to do just that.

“We’ve got to win the confidence and the faith of our residents and not have a Big-Brother-esque camera system,” she said.

Council members who have not yet approved the parade of mayoral giveaways were suspicious of the mayor’s motives.

“There’s a pattern here. It’s Christmas in April,” said downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who is mulling a campaign for mayor against Lightfoot.

“These generous giveaways using taxpayer dollars are an obvious attempt to buy favorable support. … We’re getting into campaign season. That changes everything. She’s a politically unpopular mayor. That’s a fact. Whether she can gain support in the City Council for what may be an obvious political ploy remains to be seen.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), another potential mayoral challenger, found out about the latest freebie after a briefing on the gas card and Ventra card giveaways.

During at least one of the briefings, suspicious alderpersons demanded to know whether the cards are customized for the city — or the brochure sent out with the cards — will include Lightfoot’s name or a personalized message from the mayor.

If they do, there could be significant City Council opposition, sources said.

“We’re just giving away everything. I just don’t think that’s the proper way to govern — giving stuff away. I have a real problem with it,” Sawyer said.

“We should make life better for everyone. Not just give away some trinkets and make people feel better. That’s not real relief. That’s a temporary fix. That’s a Band-Aid.”

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas branded Monday’s security camera rebate the latest “political act of desperation” by a mayor destined to serve just one term.

Instead of giving stuff away, Vallas urged Lightfoot to provide broad-based relief by canceling the automatic escalator that ties annual tax increases to the rate of inflation.

“She has absolutely no answer to the public safety challenges the city is facing, so she resorts to these gimmicks. It’s questionable use of stimulus money and once again, disrespecting the City Council. Doing things unilaterally without even consulting the City Council,” Vallas said.

“When she’s not manipulating or distorting [crime] data, she’s resorting to….meaningless things that are more pr than substantive like handing out these cameras. It’s clearly a political act of desperation and further evidence that they absolutely do not know what they’re doing.”

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