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Chicago Focuses on Homeland Security
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Chicago Focuses on Homeland Security

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Chicago Focuses on Homeland Security

Chicago Focuses on Homeland Security
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Chicago recently installed thousands of surveillance cameras in public places. It has gone further than most cities in using surveillance to fight terrorism and crime. Cortez Trotter, Chicago's former chief of emergency management, talks about local homeland security with Linda Wertheimer.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This week we're looking at the ways some communities are handling homeland security at the local level.

If you are in a public place in Chicago, chances are you're on camera. The city has gone further than most American cities in using sophisticated video surveillance both to fight terrorism and crime.

Until a few weeks ago, Chicago's head of emergency management was Cortez Trotter. Trotter says his city looked at London as a model, but now London might learn from Chicago.

Mr. CORTEZ TROTTER (Executive Director, Chicago's Office of Emergency Management): Today's technology gives Chicago some distinct advantages. The technology allows wireless that can be put up at a moment's notice. I know that the city of Chicago recently, when the incidents took place overseas, were able to put up more cameras in some specific locations that they had some concerns about within a matter of hours instead of a matter of months.

WERTHEIMER: So it's a guy on a ladder with a screwdriver rather than somebody laying cable?

Mr. TROTTER: In its simplest form, yes.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Chicago doesn't just look. The city security system also sniffs, it senses…

Mr. TROTTER: Yes, it sniffs, it looks, it listens. The kind of base line that most cameras can provide for you would be the ability to put a microphone and listen in on an area as well as being able to see it visually. But what the Chicago system does in many parts of the city, it's been equipped with gunshot detection devices. If there is a gunshot within a number of feet from it, then it automatically picks up the gunshot and directs the camera to the area, the vicinity of where the gunshot came from, giving the city of Chicago's police department an opportunity to quickly see what has taken place.

WERTHEIMER: So the city has cameras watching and listening - sensors that look at traffic flow and that sort of thing. Where does all that information go? Does somebody look at this in real time and say, oh, my goodness. We've got to get out to the corner of State and something? Or - what happens to all that stuff?

Mr. TROTTER: You know, there are people looking at the cameras. Needless to say, there is no city that could say that there is someone watching every single camera at every single moment. Now the looking at areas where there could be potential problems in terms of people leaving suitcases or parking cars or buses or trucks - something of that nature…

WERTHEIMER: Something that might be a bomb.

Mr. TROTTER: Yeah, correct. The people at the emergency operations center, they are watching these cameras and doing these analytics 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it's not that these cameras are just hung and then used as investigative tools, but they are also used to - as tools of prevention.

WERTHEIMER: What about this business of packages or parked cars? How does the system find them, notice them, call attention to them?

Mr. TROTTER: Well, it's all in the software, wherein you can set the parameters of the camera that's watching a specific area. In other words, you can say to the camera, watch this area. And if any item of the whatever size you set or a person in that area is stationary for X number of minutes or X number of seconds, then alert us to that.

WERTHEIMER: How do people from Chicago like this? How do people feel about being watched all the time?

Mr. TROTTER: Keep in mind, when we started installing the cameras in Chicago back in 2002, we sat down with the American Civil Liberties Union. We sat down with the business community. So starting out with all of the partners at the table, it prevented what could have been a backlash of criticism. But since that took place, there haven't been any complaints that I know of in terms of invasions of privacy.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder how on earth you do protect some of these privacies. This is - you know, if you're watching them from all sorts of angles.

Mr. TROTTER: Well, the camera systems that are installed - that are near locations or on the side of buildings or that have the zoom and tilt and pan capabilities to look into windows of office buildings and things like that, there are blinders on them. And their span is set so that they are only able to observe things that are in the public way - that anyone could see.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have the impression that local efforts like the one in Chicago are outpacing what the federal government is doing, that you guys have it better in hand than the feds do?

Mr. TROTTER: I think it's fair to say that the federal government is doing its fair share in helping to bring about a more secure nation, that we have learned to become a bit more agile. We can pretty much get things through and in place and ready to go in a timeframe that is usually not in place within the federal government. And that could very well be because - just because of the size of it.

WERTHEIMER: Cortez Trotter is Chicago's former chief emergency officer. He's now vice president and Midwest director of James Lee Witt Associates. Mr. Trotter, thanks very much.

Mr. TROTTER: Thank you, Linda.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Tomorrow, a conversation with the homeland security official for the state of Massachusetts.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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