Chicago officials have decided to expand the use of police-worn body cameras throughout the city following a pilot program that began in 2015 but 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, paid for 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 every day to protect our communities,” Johnson said.
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 July 28 after he hit two police sport-utility vehicles in a stolen Jaguar. Johnson hs stripped three officers of their police powers, accusing them of violating department policies.
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.
“It’s not a bad idea,” a source familiar with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to expand the use of the cameras said but added that, without adequate training and “buy-in” from officers and the Fraternal Order of Police, the technology upgrade will be “gimmicky.”