Stopping Drug Deals With Video Surveillance

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Nov 20, 2013

The Chicago Police Department cites video surveillance as one of its main reasons for success against street corner drug operations. In this note, we share details from CPD Commander Elias Voulgaris who spoke at Secured Cities on how it helped.

The Problem

When the Vice Lords started selling drugs in open air markets, Chicago police started going after lower level dealers, but it was not having the impact they wanted. Cases were getting too easily thrown out because of the small amounts of drugs and cash the dealers carried. Plus, it was hard to convince a jury of the extent of the problem using only officer's written observations, the Commander said.  

The Solution

From 2004-2005, the police launched Operation Border Patrol [link no longer available], the first investigation to rely heavily on video surveillance to document Chicago's gang-controlled open air drug markets. The police used video to record interactions between dealers and customers, which included undercover officers. Their logic: If they could get the volume of transactions on video, then they could better document the scope of the problem.

The Value of the Cameras

The cameras proved valuable for documenting a pattern of ongoing criminal activity, but also made jury cases easier to prosecute, he said. The value of having cameras that could get clear shots of gang signs and the colors people were wearing was high because being able to point out these details was good for the “more suburban” jurors to see on tape, said Commander Voulgaris.

In some instances, police showed video to low level dealers to get information on other people in the video or press a suspect into confessing.

Cameras Used

The operation used the police "blue-light" cameras, covert streetlight cameras and covert body worn cameras. The city has around 600 blue-light cameras [link no longer available] across Chicago. The street light cameras were mobile PTZ cameras that were hidden in fake electrical boxes and mounted to telephone poles for the police by the electric company. They were often set up overnight the capability to zoom in to a suspects hands from across the street.

Commander Voulgaris did not say what brand of cameras they were using for any of the operations, but an attendee at the show who said he has installed several of the covert cameras for the city said they used Axis cameras (confirmed in this Wall Street Journal story) with custom covert boxes by Anixter

The Chicago Police still do narcotics operations leveraging the three types of videos based the success of Operation Border Patrol. In fact, they liked it so much they started making "Best of" videos with the footage from investigations: 

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