Thursday, February 24, 2011

Six Chicago wards have better than 50% turnout in Tuesday's primary

Voter turnout in Tuesday's primary was just under 42%.

Yesterday, Progress Illinois published this chart of voter turnout by ward:

Note that the 19th Ward led all Chicago wards with a 74.25% voter turnout. Speaker Madigan's 13th Ward came in next, with a 58.35% turnout, followed by Ald. Michael Zalewski's 23rd Ward at 58.07%.

There were only three other Chicago wards that had a better than 50% turnout -- 41, 45 and 47 -- wards in which there were spirited contests for open City Council seats. In the 41st and 45th Wards, those contests are continuing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Runoffs in 41 and 45

41st Ward Democratic Committeeman Mary O'Connor will face off against Maurita Gavin, an Administrative Aide to outgoing Alderman Brian Doherty.

Lawyer and Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido will meet John Arena (who received the endorsements of the Tribune and the Sun-Times) in a runoff in the 45th Ward.

Something tells me that the Northwest Side Irish Parade will be particularly well-attended this March 13th.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting a clearer picture of speed cameras and other surveillance devices

In yesterday's post, we saw that, in Illinois, neither red light cameras nor Chicago Police surveillance cameras, like this one, can be used to nab speeders -- not without new legislation.

But speed cameras are in use in other American jurisdictions and are quite controversial. See, for example, this page on the National Motorists Association website, from which one may navigate to a number of articles about the perceived evils of speed cameras. (The biggest objection, if I can presume to summarize, is the disconnect between speed cameras and safety. Speed cameras are all about revenue, the objectors claim, and there is mounting evidence that, not only do such cameras not enhance driver safety, they may actually cause an increase in traffic accidents.)

But speed cameras, if I understand the technology, are activated only when a vehicle passes by at a pre-set velocity. That is merely the tip of the surveillance camera iceberg. Here, you're looking a pavement camera. From the Highway Safety Group website:
Astucia's hugely imaginative patented Camera Stud may sound like the stuff of science fiction but is an extremely effective tool of traffic management. Housed within a strong metal casing that protrudes a mere 4 mm from the road surface, the camera is a full–function digital video device producing pin–sharp images of approaching or passing vehicles and their registration plates.

The unit is suitable for use on and off the public highway and is capable of operating in practically all environments. The camera also comes with a computer controlled self cleaning unit so that road dirt and grime are removed regularly to maintain the quality of the image captured.
When I found this site, researching this post, the page linked to a video of cars driving over the camera -- and the license plates were clearly visible. And this was from the obsolete model -- the site was reluctant to show the really "pin sharp" videos for "security reasons." And -- when I went back to check the links before publishing this post -- they were gone.


The Highway Safety Group website touts using this pavement camera with an Astucia speed detection stud, "the newest member of its Intelligent Road Stud family." Data from the stud "can be linked with the Astucia camera stud providing an opportunity to also send Automatic Number Plate Registration (ANPR) data of the vehicle captured simultaneously by the camera stud."

Astucia, despite the Spanish name, is an English company. It seems that Mr. Orwell may have been right, just premature.

It may not be true that the average Briton is caught on surveillance video 300 times a day, but there are apparently a lot of cameras pointed at the streets of England.

There are quite a few in Chicago, too. According to a couple of articles earlier this month in the Chicago Sun-Times, there are more than 10,000 public and private surveillance cameras in the city, "the most extensive and integrated in the nation," according to a February 8 article by Fran Spielman and Frank Main. Their article noted a request by the American Civil Liberties Union for a "moratorium on expanding" Chicago's video-surveillance system until "new rules" are enacted "to safeguard citizens’ privacy."

Spielman and Main reported that Chicago aldermen like the surveillance system "because of the sense of security that cameras can bring to residents of high-crime neighborhoods." But the ACLU questions "the effectiveness of the cameras. The city says they accounted for 4,500 arrests from 2006 through May 2010, which the ACLU pointed out is less than 1 percent of the total number of arrests over that period."

The ACLU did not "identify any misconduct involving Chicago’s camera system," according to the Sun-Times article but instead "highlighted problems in England and other cities." The Sun-Times article didn't specify the problems highlighted in the report, but the executive summary of the ACLU report claims:
Male camera operators have ogled women. Sensitive images have been improperly disclosed – like the image of a person committing suicide, which was later posted to a violent pornography website. A study from England found that camera operators targeted black civilians, substantially out of proportion to both their suspicious conduct and their presence in the population being monitored.
You can read the entire ACLU report here.

Fran Spielman's follow-up article for the February 9 Sun-Times noted Mayor Daley's prompt rejection of the ACLU report. Spielman quotes Daley:
“What cameras are is to prevent crime — to tell criminals, ‘Yes, you are gonna be focused [on].’ There’s nothing wrong with that. And to have the good citizens use our sidewalk and our parks, have our children go to and from school. Have our families go to and from church and feel comfortable. We’re not spying on anybody. This is the public way. We’re not spying or identifying or racial profiling anyone.”
But the unblinking eye of the surveillance camera sees, and perhaps records, everything in its view, both the comings and goings of the innocent as well as the actions of criminals.

The outgoing Daley administration touts surveillance cameras as a useful crime-fighting tool. But the cop on the street may not agree, at least if the popular Second City Cop blog is any indication. Commenting on the ACLU report, SCC stated, "cameras don't prevent anything. That armored car robbery in 011 last week? Directly under a POD camera. It didn't deter anything and didn't even provide decent footage of the event."

Not that SCC welcomed the ACLU report, mind you:
What worries us is the ACLU taking a very close interest in anything to do with the Pods. We figure it's only a matter of time before they file some sort of lawsuit against the Department over camera usage and some copper who was only trying to generate activity for some mission is dragged into Federal court and finds his house is on the line for civil rights violations.
But Chicago is about to elect a new mayor. There will be significant turnover in the Chicago City Council as well. Perhaps these new elected officials will want to take a new look at the cameras around our city and the ways in which they should be used. Certainly the cameras are looking at us.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chicago makes Top 10 List of cites with most speed traps, but not all of the charges in the indictment are true

Our fair city has made yet another unhappy Top 10 List, this one a list of the country's worst speed traps. According to the linked article by Cindy Perman, posted yesterday on Yahoo! Autos and provided by, Chicago has the dubious distinction of being the ninth worst city in the country for speed traps. According to Perman's article, we have 153 (and, no, I don't know who counted). However, as will be seen, at least some of Perman's information is inaccurate.

Of Chicago, Perman writes:
Chicago now uses red-light cameras to nab motorists for running lights and speeding, which increases the city's ticketing power. And, while, speed limits are supposed to be determined by engineering studies, [Chad Dornsife, director of the Highway Safety Group,] notes that the last study on one red light speed trap here was done in 1994 and the Department of Transportation deemed the safest speed was 43 miles per hour. The posted limit? 30.

Dorsnife notes two problems here: First, some of the traffic-control devices are 20 and 30 years old. And second, on the interstates, local politicians control the speed limits — and the enforcement in the courts. So, good luck fighting a ticket.

Barnet Fagel, aka "The Ticket Doctor," noted one particularly tricky speed trap: Motorists have to drive at a snail's pace leading up to the entrance to Lake Shore Drive, which then opens up into a six-lane highway. A half-mile in is the speed trap, where the speed limit is 40 and police nab drivers just as they're starting to pick up speed. "Comparable divided highways carry higher speed limits by as much as 10 to 20 mph more," he said.
While I'm certain that Chicago has its share of speed traps, I'm pretty sure that not only are red-light cameras not being used as speed traps, they can't be used for this purpose.

And I refer to not to technological limitations, but legal ones.

There was legislation pending in Illinois to permit the use of cameras to nab speeders; I wrote about it on this blog in March 2009. That speed camera bill failed. Currently, as far as I know, with the exception of the Automated Traffic Control Systems in Highway Construction or Maintenance Zones Act, 625 ILCS 7/1, et seq., "no photographic, video, or other imaging system may be used in this State to record vehicle speeds for the purpose of enforcing any law or ordinance regarding a maximum or minimum speed limit unless a law enforcement officer is present at the scene and witnesses the event." See, 625 ILCS 5/11-612.

The Automated Traffic Control Systems in Highway Construction or Maintenance Zones Act gives the State Police the authority to set up a candid camera in construction zones on expressways or on Illinois Tollways, but, since section 5 of the Act expressly provides that its purpose is safety in construction zones, section 10 imposes a burden on the State to prove, in any prosecution brought under the Act, "that one or more workers were present in the construction or maintenance zone when the violation occurred."

So maybe there are 153 speed traps in Chicago, but "red light cameras" are not victimizing hasty Chicago drivers. At least, not yet.

Gosh -- does this mean that you can't believe everything you read on the Internet after all?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Real-world evidence supporting non-partisan judicial primaries in Illinois

Albert J. Klumpp, PhD, a Research Analyst with the Chicago firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, read my post last month endorsing the concept of non-partisan judicial primaries and left this comment:
Any sort of significant change to our selection system needs to be based on real-world evidence that a different system would be an improvement. (Such as by comparison across systems in different jurisdictions.) Unfortunately that evidence hasn’t been produced—not yet. And the legal community has always been too content to simply offer theoretical arguments without supporting evidence. The electorate that needs to approve a change isn’t likely to be convinced by theory.
These are valid points. People are unlikely to support constitutional change unless they are convinced a proposal is valuable and useful. I can't provide comparisons to different states.

But I can provide some real-world evidence to show why a change to a non-partisan judicial primary is warranted.

According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, a total of 761,626 Cook County voters took ballots in the 2010 primary election.

But nearly 22% of these (21.72706814% if we're being fussy) were denied the opportunity to vote in ten of the 11 countywide judicial primary elections (eight Circuit Court races and three for the Appellate Court). And of these 165,479 voters, only the 161,878 Republican primary voters had the opportunity to choose between two candidates for the countywide McCarthy vacancy.

None of these 165,479 voters had the opportunity to vote for subcircuit judicial candidates, no matter what subcircuit they lived in. There no candidates except Democrats in any subcircuit primary this year.

In 2010 there were, according to the ISBE, 1,424,959 total Cook County voters in the November general election. Why one of every two general election voters is willing to let others narrow the field for them is a question best left to the academics. But primary voters are not content to let others limit their choices; by definition, they show up to make their own choices. But when it comes to judicial candidates, 165,479 voters were essentially shut out of the process, even though they were at the polls.

One may say that this is the fault of the Republican Party. The Republicans could, in theory, furnish their own slate of candidates in every judicial race, thereby insuring that every voter in the fall would have choices. But, in recent years, successful Republican candidates in Cook County are about as common as unicorns. It is understandable, then, that persons seriously aspiring to judicial service in Cook County do not seek office as Republicans.

This, of course, will change. Change is the one constant of the universe. (At one time, the peaks of the Himalayas were a primeval ocean floor.) Frankly, a Republican revival could happen as soon as the next election cycle. But I won't take bets on it.

The Democratic judicial primary functions as a de facto non-partisan primary anyway: For example, in 2008 and 2010, Thomas "TJ" Somer, who was once elected Bloom Township Supervisor as a Republican, filed for 15th Subcircuit vacancies. Other examples could probably be found. But if the Democratic primary attracts all candidates, why shouldn't that primary also be open to all voters?

Where judges are elected, denying one in five voters the chance to choose their judges is a scandal. But it's easily remedied and won't cost voters a dime.

Is there any interest in Springfield?

Judge Marcus R. Salone appointed to Appellate Court

Cook County Associate Judge Marcus R. Salone has been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy on the First District of the Appellate Court. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Justice Sheila M. O'Brien.

Judge Salone is a one-time Chicago Police officer and assistant State's Attorney. He's been an associate judge since 1992.

Judge Salone's appointment is effective March 8 and will terminate December 3, 2012.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lionel Jean-Baptiste appointed to 9th Subcircuit vacancy

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed Evanston attorney Lionel Jean-Baptiste to the 9th Subcircuit vacancy created by the recent death of Judge Gerald C. Bender.

Jean-Baptiste is currently alderman of Evanston's 2nd Ward. Jean-Baptiste was born in Haiti, arriving in Evanston with his family in 1964. Jean-Baptiste graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1970. A 1974 graduate of Princeton, Jean-Baptiste later graduated from Chicago-Kent Law School and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1991.

Jean-Baptiste's appointment is effective March 4 and terminates December 3, 2012.

Updated 2/14/11 to link to Chicago Tribune coverage.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Peter J. Vilkelis appointed to Cook County bench

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed criminal defense attorney Peter J. Vilkelis to the countywide vacancy created by the recent retirement of Judge Donald J. O'Brien, Jr.

Vilkelis is a 1980 graduate of John Marshall Law School. He was an Assistant States Attorney for nine years before setting up his own defense practice.

Vilkelis's appointment is effective February 7, 2011 and expires December 3, 2012.