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More Chicago Cops Will Be Getting Body Cameras This Year

By Mike Ewing in News on Apr 11, 2016 5:23PM

Washington DC Metropolitan Police Officer Debra Domino wears one of the new 'body-worn cameras' that the city's officers will begin using during a press conference announcing the details of the program September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

City officials say police activity in districts covering one-third of Chicago will be caught on video as early as this summer after a new shipment of police body cameras arrives this week.

Officials announced the expansion of a pilot program using the cameras back in 2014 after the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke sparked protests and criticism of the police department. There are 450 police body cameras en route to Chicago.

“Body cameras represent an important step forward as the work of restoring trust and accountability in the department continues,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement released Sunday.

Worn on the chest or shoulder area, the cameras capture high definition video and audio of officers’ interactions with the public, including routine calls, traffic stops, and evidence collection. Everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the NAACP and police unions endorse their use, although the president of the Fraternal Order of Police expressed some concern to the Tribune over officers’ private conversations being recorded.

Officials claimed the initial pilot program underway in the Shakespeare Police District “drastically reduced” the number of citizen complaints against police. City leaders previously pointed to studies from other cities showing complaints dropped as much as 80 percent.

The 450 cameras used in the program’s expansion will be worn by officers in the Austin, Wentworth, Deering, Ogden, South Chicago and Gresham police districts.

“They play an important role in not just fighting crime, but also in learning from actual encounters with the public,” Interim Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said he and his command staff will wear a body camera as part of the expansion as well. All the cameras were paid for with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and a matching $1 million from the Mayor’s Office. Professors with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Research in Law and Justice will measure the program’s impact on policing and the perception of police in the community.

In addition to expanding the use of body cameras, officials say every CPD officer will carry a Taser starting June 1, in addition to going through additional training on how to de-escalate situations. The change was announced after it was revealed officers dealing with Laquan McDonald called for a Taser before Jason Van Dyke even arrived on the scene and shot him shortly thereafter.