The village trustees soon plan to debate whether to install cameras at Maple Street Park in a discussion that will highlight the tensions between security, privacy and the costs of each.
Village vice president George Tyler, who requested the agenda item earlier this summer after hearing from a resident concerned over the popular park’s lack of security cameras, noted that other “soft targets,” like elementary schools, have “tons of security.”
“And yet I walk by Maple Street Park every day … [and] I look at it — Where are the cameras? What’s the security?” said Tyler at the trustees’ Sept. 24 meeting. He later added, “If we’re running school-like programs all day long in the village, how is that different?”
Police Chief Rick Garey told the trustees the cameras would help his department better solve crimes in the area, especially if there was ever a major incident like a child abduction. He reminded the board of the tragic incident at Maple Street Park in the early 1980s, in which two 12-year-old girls were raped at the park by two 16-year-old boys, resulting in one of the girls’ deaths.
“Some people with long histories know about that, and certainly that is a concern and a fear,” he said.
But the PD doesn’t have enough staff to consistently watch the cameras it already has, so it would only be able to use the footage to solve crimes after the fact. And even then, Garey said, he’s not seen a significant increase in crime at the park in the last five years, leading him to question whether costs to blanket the park in cameras — well over $100,000, he estimated, not counting digital storage and equipment replacements — would justify the move.
The price tag would be far less if the board focused on entry areas instead of the entire park, he said. “It is this balance between what are we trying to solve, how much are we willing to invest in it,” Garey said.
At least one trustee feared the move would send the wrong message.
“If we start giving the impression that being in nature in our parks is so unsafe that we need monitoring by video, I just don’t know what we’re admitting to the kind of community we’re living in,” said trustee Raj Chawla.
The money would be better spent on bike locks and helmets, or to pay for some crossing guards in front of the park, Chawla said. “More children die drowning in public parks than get abducted,” Chawla said. “They’re fears, which are justified, but I just don’t see it bearing out.”
Trustee Dan Kerin, a retired state trooper, took the opposite stance. He said he has long advocated for a camera pointed at the park’s front entrance, which would capture anyone going in and out of the pool, and noted the village’s recreation advisory committee had “batted around” the idea years ago but it never stuck. Kerin said he worries about “something happening to some little kid,” and warned the board that it could one day regret not taking the extra security measure.
“When it’s after the fact and we go back and find out, ‘Oh, if we had just done this,’ it won’t be because I didn’t suggest it,’” he said.
Chawla responded that there’s many other ways to get into the park, and to him, there’s still the issue of privacy. “It’s whether [residents are] comfortable enough to be in their community and expect that they’re not going to be surveilled,” he said. “What’s next? Are we going to say we’d sure do a lot better if we had facial recognition?”
If the trustees do decide to install the cameras, they will need to figure out how long to keep the footage. Chawla suggested a week — long enough for people to notice if their kids are missing but short enough to alleviate some of the privacy concerns.
Village president Andrew Brown requested Garey return to a future meeting with some answers to such questions, “so that we can have a less reactionary, more informed conversation.” The board has yet to set a date for the topic.