Chicago Police To Expand Body Cameras Program, But Next Steps Unclear

CHICAGO, IL – The Chicago Police Department announced Sunday that it will spend about $8 million to buy body cameras for the rest of the force, a rollout officials unveiled though it won’t be complete for years and they aren’t sure who will get the new equipment next.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said all officers on patrol will have the cameras by the end of 2018 but offered no specifics about when exactly they will be purchased or which officers are first in line to get them.

“Next year they’ll get them, we haven’t identified the actual districts yet,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said when reporters pressed Johnson for more information during a news conference in the Austin District police station on the West Side.

Johnson held the event to talk about the cameras two days before Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to deliver what he has touted as a key speech on public safety, a chance for him to try to reframe the public discussion about the city’s rampant street violence and the public’s deep distrust of the CPD since the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video last year.

Announcing the body cameras purchase Sunday could help the city attempt to set the stage for the address by focusing media attention on ways the department says it is improving officer accountability.

Asked whether Sunday’s camera news conference was timed to coincide with Emanuel’s Tuesday speech, Johnson said, “We just want you all to know what we plan on doing moving forward.”

The announced expansion of the police body camera program comes as the U.S. Justice Department continues an investigation into CPD training and procedures that was initiated during the public outcry after the release of the McDonald video.

The Justice Department has pushed for the use of body cameras by police departments nationwide, and federal officials may eventually require Chicago police to use them. If that’s the case, announcing the camera purchases now instead of waiting for the federal report would allow Johnson to appear proactive rather than like he’s following Justice Department orders.

Asked Sunday whether the federal report will call for Chicago police to use the cameras, Johnson said: “I would imagine this may be a part of it.”

A recent high-profile incident showed the limits of body camera technology. Officers were wearing body cameras when they fatally shot Paul O’Neal — an unarmed, black 18-year-old — in the South Shore neighborhood the night of July 28. But the camera worn by the officer who fired the apparent fatal shot was not working for unknown reasons when he chased O’Neal into a backyard and shot him.

The body camera of that officer, Jose Diaz, was turned on after the shooting, and it captured him saying he didn’t know whether O’Neal was armed.

Johnson was asked about the O’Neal shooting and said it will take time for officers to get accustomed to the cameras.

“With any new technology you roll out — and that’s not just with CPD, but any organization — you have to train people properly, and you have to give them a chance to get acclimated to using the new equipment,” he said.

The Police Department started issuing body cameras to officers as part of a pilot program in the Northwest Side Shakespeare District at the beginning of 2015, and about 2,000 cameras are now in use in seven of the city’s 22 police districts. Johnson said the department will use “CPD’s operating budget, as well as grant funding” totaling about $8 million to buy about 5,000 additional cameras. He said the body cameras will come “bundled” with Tasers for officers as well.

From The Chicago Tribune

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