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Chicago Police ramps up body camera rollout to patrols
By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News
By this time next year, every Chicago police officer patrolling the streets will receive a body camera, expediting a process city officials said Wednesday they hope improves relations between law enforcement and the neighborhoods they’re sworn to protect.
Patrol officers in the last eight districts currently without body cameras will receive training on an accelerated schedule over the next 12 months, completing a process officials previously expected to complete by the end of 2018.
“Body cameras, while not a panacea, are a win-win for officers and the public,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a press release. “They provide a firsthand look at the dangerous situations officers encounter on a daily basis and improve transparency while building trust.”
Calls for implementing body cameras within the nation’s second largest law enforcement force grew louder over two years ago after a Chicago officer shot a knife-wielding teenager. A surveillance video that was made public showed the teen was walking away from the officer, who proceeded to shoot him multiple times. That case remains under investigation by federal officials.
The Chicago incident is one of several that have taken place across the country in recent years that have led to protests questioning the officers’ use of force, especially in cases against minorities. In response, the number of law enforcement agencies nationwide purchasing body camera systems for their officers has greatly increased. That was thanks, in part, to a $20 million grant Department of Justice made available to the agencies.
Before implementing the program in the final eight districts, Chicago officials have already spent more than $8 million on purchasing body-worn cameras, city officials said.
Last year, body camera footage of a traffic stop initiated by a white University of Cincinnati officer showed him reaching into an unarmed black man’s car and shooting him. Prosecutors used that footage to eventually charge Ray Tensing with the death of Samuel DuBose. Earlier this year, a judge declared a mistrial in Tensing’s first trial due to a hung jury. Prosecutors have said they plan to retry the now former UC officer.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he hopes the cameras not only make the officers more aware of the situations they encounter. He wants the cameras to make the people involved in the incidents captured by the cameras to become more aware as well.
“A heightened recognition that police-citizen communications are being recorded citywide will help our officers de-escalate otherwise tense situations and reduce the number of incidents necessitating the use of force, as well as the number of complaints against police,” Johnson said. “The net benefit is greater safety and security to our officers and an overall improved interaction with the general public.”
Researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago will evaluate the department’s camera program, said District Commander Marc Buslik, whose district was the first to implement body-worn cameras. The purpose for the research is to determine whether the cameras are increasing civility between all parties.
Chicago, which according to the FBI has more than 12,000 officers, began its body camera program in 2015, and its officers have recorded more than 300,000 video segments. The cameras in use by Chicago officers can record up to 72 hours of high-definition video on a single charge, Buslik said.
Chicago has not just invested in body cameras as it seeks to develop a better relationship between its officers and its residents. Buslik noted that the city has provided de-escalation training for its officers and expanded a mentorship program for officers and local youths.