Ald. Knudsen: appropriate use of cameras, lighting, could curb ward crime


Quentin Blais

Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) speaks to DePaul students during a Q&A session at Lincoln Park Campus Wednesday.

Across the board, crime in the 19th district is up 66% from last year, according to CPD data recently gathered by NBC Chicago. Robberies alone have surged 48% over the same period, leaving 43rd Ward residents uneasy.

These concerns were also present last May, as residents of the 18th and 19th districts called for increased surveillance like added CCTV cameras and the use of drones to former Ald. Michele Smith and CPD officials at a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS).

For newly appointed Ald. Timmy Knudsen, there is evidence that these types of initiatives could help combat the influx of robberies, carjackings and other violent crimes, but only if employed rationally.

“I like a smart response that includes cameras,” Knudsen said at a question-and-answer session with DePaul students on Wednesday. “The fear is there’s got to be a healthy limit because no one wants to live in a surveillance state.” 

With budget season well underway, Knudsen and his colleagues on city council have the opportunity to allocate funding for added public safety measures. Knudsen says efforts are being made to increase public safety resources.

“The infrastructure budget is a way to boost safety and boost. . . things that we spend money on in that realm,” Knudsen said. “We can spend money on lighting, we spend money on cameras.”

Upon taking office, Knudsen said adding cameras to the ward’s streets would be one of his first moves. While he supports their implementation, the 32-year-old alderman wants the public to know that surveillance tools like street cameras could be a more permanent solution than residents might realize. If strategies like this are put forth, Knudsen believes it needs to be done carefully.

“Once you put a camera up, until the technology really wears out, it’s there,” Knudsen said. “It’s an expense to take them down. . . so I’m trying to link these investments to data.”

Knudsen said there are other ways to combat the area’s crime surge that should be focused on too.

“One thing we don’t think about. . . is making sure our small businesses stay open and restaurants and bars stay open,” Knudsen said. “They actually lead to public safety.”

According to a Chicago Tribune article from March 2021, 361 of the city’s businesses closed because of the pandemic. A walk down Halsted St. in Lincoln Park displays a handful of vacant storefronts and bars that were once thriving businesses. Knudsen says filling these vacant spaces with patronage is key to making the Ward safer. 

“When [residents] walked their dog at night, they’d have people outside [these businesses] and it made them feel safer,” Knudsen said.

Recent criminal activity in the area has gotten significant publicity with events like the two abductions in Wrigleyville earlier this month. With crime occurring at a higher rate on the North Side than the city is used to, the accompanying anxiety can make the crisis even more difficult for officials like Knudsen to deal with. 

“The situation in the city is tricky because fear is skyrocketing,” Knudsen said. “Crime is a really bad situation, but I think fear is really even outpacing it.

A lack of clear information or misinformation can add to public fear and anxiety, as the area has recently seen with issues like the SAFE-T Act. As Chicago readies itself for the winter, a time of year that historically leads to increased crimes like carjackings and robbery, Knudsen says that accurate, comprehensible public education is vital.

“[We need to] educate people on how to stay safe when it gets colder, [when] a lot of the carjacking starts,” Knudsen said. “We’ve got to educate people on how to stay aware, how to watch out for these things.”

Knudsen was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot after the 43rd Ward’s previous alderperson, Michele Smith, retired in August. The youngest member of city council must juggle a focus on community issues and keeping his seat, with a quickly approaching election in February. It’s for these reasons that public safety is a chief focus of Knudsen’s.

“I think that [safety] will be the question of this election,” Knudsen said. “Public safety and crime, it touches every person in the city.”

Connect with Patrick Sloan-Turner: @PatSloanTurner | [email protected]