CPD body cameras protect public

By Editorial Board

The Chicago Police Department is following the lead of other major U.S. cities that have begun pilot programs to place pager-sized body cameras on officers’ uniforms.

CPD is in the initial planning stage of the program, which is intended to protect the department against misconduct lawsuits. The department is currently discussing implementation with unions, and CPD officials have also met with the Cook County State Attorney’s Office to ensure the program adheres to the law, according to Martin Maloney, the director of the CPD Office of News Affairs.

The department is also looking at best practices across the country, Maloney said. The New York Police Department announced in early September it will equip at least 60 officers with body cameras in the coming months, and the Los Angeles Police Department began testing body cameras on its officers in January.

At a time when allegations of police brutality continue to make national headlines, notably the police-related death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, CPD’s body camera program is a smart move that will protect citizens from brutality and police officers from any false claims of misconduct.

However, what is considered appropriate implementation of the cameras remains unclear. The U.S. Department of Justice released a report on Sept. 12 analyzing policies from police departments that use body cameras in order to determine the best practices. The report addresses privacy concerns raised by camera use and found that most departments allow the officers to turn the cameras on and off depending on whether they have the verbal consent to record. Most unions support this practice, including the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority, because they say it protects victims and maintains police-citizen relationships.

But being allowed to turn the cameras off has the ability to impede their effectiveness. Instead, officers should be required to record their entire shifts. This ensures the officer does not cut the video when civilian encounters become heated or violent, preventing the recording of evidence for or against controversial claims of police brutality. The American Civil Liberties Union supports this measure and advocates that body cameras should also have universal guidelines, according to an Oct. 1, 2013 report.

In Illinois, the eavesdropping law, which was held to be unconstitutional because it was found to be too broad, required that verbal consent be received to record a conversation. Many states that have adopted body cameras have had the consent requirement waived, according to the same U.S. Department of Justice report. Chicago should adopt this measure when creating the guidelines for the program. Civilian interactions with officers are largely public, and the right to privacy should be waived if it ensures professionalism and accountability from police officers.

Police departments that have implemented the body cameras have seen a significant reduction in complaints against officers, according to the report. In October 2012, Arizona State University conducted a study placing body cameras on 50 of the officers at the Mesa Police Department. In one year, the study found that officers with body-worn cameras had 40 percent fewer complaints filed against them.

At a time of great criticism from the public, the CPD’s decision to begin a pilot program could protect the department from costly complaints and improve citizens’ treatment overall.