CHICAGO (CBS) – Police cameras are supposed to improve neighborhood safety and help reduce fear.  City leaders say they have played a role in thousands of arrests.  But have they made places safer?

Just days before the release of a study examining that question, CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman takes a look at the Police Observation Device (POD) program – its backers and critics.

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications calls the cameras a success, but for a long time now some West-Siders have wondered who is watching their camera.

They want to know why no one seems to see the crime they’re living with on their Garfield Park block – from big brawls to cutting and selling drugs.  Home video shows it all happening either around or right under their POD, otherwise known as a blue-light camera. 

“Drug dealers are over there all the time.  They don’t care if the camera is watching or not,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous. 

Another resident who also requested anonymity said:  “I think the camera’s working, but I don’t think anybody’s watching it.”

They describe what they see as chaos under the camera.

“With 15,000 cameras, this is one of many, and there are not 15,000 people watching them,” says Jonathan Lewin, managing deputy director of Public Safety Technology. 

Lewin says watching all the cameras at once would be impossible, but they call up different cameras at different locations 24 hours a day, and eyes are on them.

He also says more than 20,000 times a year police use the cameras to run missions in certain areas. If they see something on the POD, they send officers to it.

“We know that officers use them as a tool.  We also know crime is down, and calls for service are down,” Lewin said.

But on that block in Garfield Park, residents aren’t so sure. They say they’ve upheld their end of the bargain.  They’ve called police. 

CBS 2 spoke with the author of the Urban Institute study on cameras and crime prevention.  One of her findings:  In Garfield Park, the cameras had no impact, but in Humboldt Park they did. 

No explanation on that until the study officially comes out Monday.

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