Experts: highway camera bills on Pritzker’s desk ripe for abuse

Experts: highway camera bills on Pritzker’s desk ripe for abuse

Two bills on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk would spend $20 million to add license plate monitoring cameras to 6,600 miles of highways in 22 counties. Civil rights groups fret about abuse. Illinois State Police can’t say they increase safety.

Two bills on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk could expand Illinois highway camera monitoring program to cover 6,600 more miles of road across 22 counties as the General Assembly looks to crack down on expressway crime before November elections.

House Bill 260 and House Bill 448 – passed alongside 80 other proposals in the final day of the legislative session – would see the governor expand a license plate monitoring pilot program from Cook County to the rest of Illinois with $20 million in new funding.

The measure would add hundreds of new cameras while increasing the number of crimes the cameras can be used to investigate and number of parties who can prosecute them.

While lawmakers argue the bills could assist in the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed on state expressways, the Illinois State Police note they have been unable to quantify the number of crimes solved by the cameras during the Cook County pilot program.

Civil liberty groups opposed to the devices said there is a lack of transparency that leaves the program ripe for abuse. There is no information on how cameras are placed, there is a ban on drivers reviewing footage when charged with violations and there are requirements for law enforcement to delete video 120 days after recording – essentially destroying the evidence.

ISP spokesman Melaney Arnold said the agency would finalize and share camera locations only after the bill was signed into law. The new legislation notably excludes explicit guidance on which roadways would receive the additional monitoring.

“Who makes the decisions on where the cameras are placed?” state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, asked. “Are the cameras placed in areas that are more frequented by more minorities and does that lend to a discriminatory effect that we’re targeting certain populations?”

“Although these tools can provide some public benefit, the risk is that they’re susceptible to abuse and have a chilling effect on public life.”

The measures amend the 2020 Expressway Camera Act, which placed about 100 license-plate-reading cameras on the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago through a $12.5 million IDOT grant. The program was launched in response to an increase in expressway shootings during the pandemic.

ISP has reported 72 expressway shootings in Cook County so far in 2022.

HB 4481 would expand the program to state highways and expressways in the counties of Boone, Bureau, Champaign, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Henry, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Macon, Madison, McHenry, Morgan, Peoria, Rock Island, Sangamon, St. Clair, Will and Winnebago.

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, an East St. Louis Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the camera locations will be chosen through highway traffic data. The counties were chosen through discussions with law enforcement and lawmakers who saw a need for added crime-solving tools.

If signed, HB 260 would allow police to use camera footage to also investigate hijacking and forcible felonies such as murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping and aggravated battery.

The bill would also give the attorney general’s office, along with local state’s attorneys, authority to prosecute forcible felony, gunrunning and firearms offenses on camera-monitored expressways.

Still, lawmakers have expressed concerns the ban on citizens reviewing video of alleged violations before the evidence is deleted creates ample room for abuse and discrimination by state authorities.

“ISP gets to essentially determine where cameras go. It gets to have the video and not disclose it, and it doesn’t have to provide any justifiable reason,” said state Rep. Curtis Tarver, a Chicago Democrat. “And at the same time, the attorney general can potentially prosecute alleged criminals, but we’re also putting in statute that we’ll delete the very video that the attorney general might have to defend those officers against. It’s crazy.”

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!