LAKEVIEW — All Chicago Police officers will be equipped with body cameras one year sooner than expected, but it'll be up to them when to start recording.
Every patrolling officer will wear a body camera by the end of 2017, with an additional eight police districts moving ahead of schedule to implement the program over the next year, said Town Hall District Cmdr. Marc Buslik.
Expediting the camera rollout will cost $2.8 million in addition to the $8 million already allocated for the program in 2017, according to the mayor's office.
The extra money will come from the city's property tax rebate program. The city set aside enough money to cover all eligible households but expected that some homeowners would not apply, a city spokeswoman said.
The initial $8 million came from the Police Department's operating budget and a series of grants.
"The expedited expansion reflects the mayor's priorities and the Police Department's," Buslik said. "These efforts build on comprehensive reforms to address the complex challenges facing the Police Department."
The cameras are meant to "de-escalate otherwise tense situations and reduce the number of incidents necessitating the use of force as well as the number of complaints against officers," Buslik said during a Wednesday announcement of the fast-tracked plans.
In doing so, the city aims to "improve transparency and rebuild trust" between officers and the community, Buslik said.
Seven districts — Austin, Wentworth, Deering, Ogden, South Chicago and Gresham — received body cameras this year, in addition to the Shakespeare District, which piloted the program in February 2015.
Seven others were scheduled to get body cameras next year: the Englewood, Harrison, Chicago Lawn, Grand Crossing, Grand Central, Central and Near North districts.
Now that the mayor's office has dedicated more money to start the program sooner, the remaining eight districts will also receive the body cameras this year. They include the Calumet, Near West, Jefferson Park, Albany Park, Town Hall, Lincoln and Morgan Park districts.
Knowing when to record
Officers will be trained on when to use the cameras. Privacy issues are a concern, for example, for victims of sexual assault or other sensitive interactions, Buslik said.
When officers are in public or in a private residence or business while on duty, they are expected activate their cameras and will be held accountable for recording their encounters with citizens from the start, Buslik said.
But it will be up to the individual officers to hit "record," Buslik said. Having a written policy requiring officers to have cameras on at all times is "not really a best practice" and could create privacy issues, Buslik said.
Police have denied that in cases like the September fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Paul O'Neal, officers intentionally interfered with their cameras.
The officer who killed O'Neal had a camera that was not recording as O'Neal sideswiped a police squad car and three officers opened fire. In the days after O'Neal's death, Supt. Eddie Johnson relieved the three unnamed officers of their police duties for violating department policy.
'Just a matter of practice'
Buslik repeated the reassurances Wednesday, suggesting that the officer in question was still getting used to the new camera in the Paul O'Neal case.
"Like any other piece of technology, it takes some getting used to," he said. "I know, in my case, when I first got my camera, I had to get used to remembering to activate it. That's just a matter of practice."
Town Hall Cmdr. Marc Buslik discusses the use of officer-worn body cameras while announcing plans to expedite the citywide roll-out by the end of 2017. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Officers have expressed concerns that they'll lose the ability to make policing decisions — like letting someone off with a warning rather than writing a ticket — or that they'll be reprimanded for minor infractions like using "colorful" language during confrontations.
That won't be the case, Buslik promised.
"My response to that is: You continue to do what is right," he said. "And if it turns out to have been wrong, you're going to be held accountable for that decision. The fact that it's been recorded is irrelevant."
Reducing tensions with cameras
Buslik has almost two years of experience with Chicago's body cameras, having led the Shakespeare District when its officers received the cameras in a pilot program in February 2015.
"I'm a big proponent of the cameras," Buslik said. "I can speak from personal experience that advising someone they're being recorded brings the tension level down."
Chicago first tested body cameras for officers in Logan Square and Wicker Park before expanding to seven more districts this year.
Since then, more than 300,000 segments of video have been recorded, and new cameras will be able to record up to 72 hours of video with a single charge, Buslik said. The 4,000 cameras, supplied by Taser International, will be the most of any police department in the country.
It will take the full year to train officers on how and when to use the body cameras and install the devices in each district, Buslik said. The Justice Department, which is investigating the Police Department's use of force, helped the Police Department shape its body camera policy.
As the program advances, researchers with the University of Illinois at Chicago will evaluate the use of body cameras and how it impacts police interactions, use of force and an officer's decision-making.
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