Elusive thief has stolen red light cameras from North Side intersection three times, CPD document says

A living legend is walking amongst ordinary Chicagoans. A shadowy commoner, they take decisive action while others merely complain. They don’t seek recognition or fame — probably because they’d be arrested.

Will Chicago ever know their name? The name of the person who has stolen the city’s cash-printing red light cameras at Cicero and Lawrence three times? And, if the Sauganash Sasquatch is ever arrested, would a jury in this town convict them?

Two cameras are posted at the intersection — one facing in each direction on Cicero Avenue. Devices have been reported stolen from both posts, according to CPD records.

The north-facing red light camera at Cicero and Lawrence is seen on Google Streetview. | Google

The south-facing camera was targeted most recently, at 3:16 a.m. on September 5. Someone who works for the city’s red light camera system walked into the 17th (Albany Park) Police District station to file a theft report two days later, according to police.

“The complainant related a red light camera on the northwestern corner … had been taken,” a CPD spokesperson said when we first inquired about the thefts last week.

But our tipster told us cameras had been stolen from the intersection two other times. They sent along an internal CPD report to support their claim — “3rd occurrence at location” the report says — but the dates of the earlier incidents aren’t listed in the document.

We did some digging. Deep in a city data site, we discovered that one of the cameras at Cicero and Lawrence didn’t generate any red light tickets from June 28 through June 30. And a CPD crime database shows a “theft of over $500” on the street near 4800 North Cicero at 1:30 a.m. on June 28.

Coincidence? Or was this another red light camera theft?

It was a red light camera theft, Officer Michelle Tannehill confirmed Tuesday.

“A 23-year-old male reported that he noticed the red light camera was not ‘online,'” Tannehill said in an email yesterday. “He visited the site, and the metal pole was on the ground and pulled away from the base and the camera unit was missing.”

We haven’t pinpointed the date of the third theft. Our team found another time this year when one of the cameras stopped generating tickets for a few days, but we could not find a corresponding police report. It’s possible that no one filed a report for the elusive incident.

Now, of course, it’s also possible that more than one person has taken it upon themselves to steal red light cameras from the same intersection. But is it likely?

In August 2018, CBS2 reported that the Lawrence and Cicero red light cameras generated 6,141 tickets over the preceding year. If the cameras are still working at that pace, the city loses an average of $850 per day when one of the intersection’s devices goes missing.

Area Five detectives are investigating the thefts. But, hopefully, not too aggressively.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com