City officials have decided to expand the use of police-worn body cameras throughout Chicago following a pilot program that began in 2015 and has raised questions about whether officers always turn on the devices.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is expected to announce Sunday that all 22 police districts will be equipped with body cameras for every officer on every shift. The number of cameras will rise from 2,000 now to about 7,000 by 2018. The expansion is expected to cost $8 million through city funding and grants.
The pilot program began in January 2015 in the Shakespeare District on the Northwest Side. This year, the department expanded the program to the Austin, Wentworth, Deering, Ogden, South Chicago and Gresham districts.
“Body cameras have proven to be a valuable tool in promoting departmental accountability and trust, while providing a firsthand look into the dangerous situations Chicago police officers face everyday to protect our communities,” Johnson said in a statement.
But a police-involved shooting in the South Chicago district has raised concerns about whether cops are purposely turning off their cameras. Paul O’Neal, 18, was fatally shot on July 28 after he hit two police SUVs in a stolen Jaguar. Johnson stripped three officers of their police powers for allegedly violating police policy.
The camera of the officer who fired the fatal shot apparently wasn’t recording when he fired. But after the shooting, his camera captured him saying he didn’t know O’Neal was armed. Later, a supervisor cautioned officers to “make sure these are all off now,” apparently talking about their cameras.
A source familiar with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to expand the use of the cameras said “it’s not a bad idea,” but without adequate training and “buy-in” from officers and the Fraternal Order of Police, the technology upgrade will be “gimmicky.”