CITY HALL — Chicago Police are ready to expand their nascent campaign to equip officers with body cameras, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in a statement Sunday.
The pilot program will reach officers in seven of the city's 22 police districts by mid-2016, the statement said. Currently, body cameras are only being used by 30 officers in Chicago's Shakespeare District, which includes Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park.
So far, the statement said, the results of the 745 hours video recorded by Shakespeare District police this year are "promising, as the devices are helping officers in their daily work and being used to aid in criminal investigations."
The announcement comes amid a swell of protest surrounding the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Before last week's release of a video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times, police had claimed that the officer was acting in self-defense.
Now, after city leaders spent months fighting multiple lawsuits aimed at getting the video released, a Change.org petition to impeach Emanuel for a "cover-up" of the shooting has collected more than 4000 signatures.
The continuing implementation of body cameras, Emanuel said, is a step toward mending the frayed trust between the public and law enforcement.
“Improving public safety and making Chicago a safer city has been one of my highest priorities,” Emanuel said. “Expanding this successful program into one-third of the city will help enhance transparency and credibility as well as strengthen the fabric of trust that is vital between police and the community.”
In the wake of citywide protests, leaders of the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union have joined other advocacy groups to put pressure on city leaders for increased police transparency. Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the Illinois ACLU, pointed to the timing of Sunday's announcement as evidence that leaders are responding to that pressure.
"Because of the events of the past year, we were already bound to see an expansion of cameras, not only in Chicago, but across the state," Yohnka said. "But right now police are looking for ways to respond to calls for increased oversight and transparency, and this is a step they can take to provide a measure of those things."
Pressure has also come from the U.S. Justice Department, which in September pledged $23 million to help cities all over the country adopt the new technology. Of that sum, $1.1 million has been dedicated to helping develop Chicago's program, according to city officials.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, for his part, said body cameras will bring benefits to police, calling the devices "great tools for evidence gathering and training" that "allow us to learn from actual encounters with the public," according to the Emanuel's statement.
In the 11 months since the beginning of the city's pilot program, lawmakers have taken steps to fold the use of body cameras into regular police practice. In August, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into state law new rules and guidelines for the use of police body cameras, laying out specific officer-civilian interactions that should be filmed.
But according to a scorecard released earlier this month by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group representing more than 200 organizations around the country, the law falls short on a number of key criteria. As it stands now, Illinois law does nothing to discourage officers from tampering with their own footage, and it doesn't guarantee public access to any videos taken by the devices.
Still, Yohnka said, every sign of incremental progress is a reason to keep beating the drum for more police oversight.
"I'm not sure there's a community in the country where this program is working perfectly," Yohnka said. "But we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We need to keep looking for ways to open up police processes as much as possible, and body cameras are one way to do that."
Police will specify "in the coming days" which districts will adopt the new technology next year, Emanuel said.
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