Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has posted videos from more than a hundred cases where cops shot or injured someone.
The move follows a public outcry about the video that showed an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald — a video the public did not get to see for more than a year, and only after a judge ordered its release.
WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell has watched some of the videos and unpacked the new policy that resulted in their release.
What’s behind this new policy?
Until now, the city has generally refused to release evidence in a police incident that’s under investigation by either administrative or criminal authorities. Practically speaking, that usually kept videos of police misconduct out of public view for years.
Last December, Mayor Emanuel fired the chief of the Independent Police Review Authority — the agency that looks into shootings by cops and excessive-force complaints — and appointed a former federal prosecutor named Sharon Fairley to run the agency.
The mayor also set up a task force to look into police accountability, and the conversation began to shift toward balancing the needs of investigators with the needs of the public to see these sorts of videos.
“These past few months, as the city has struggled with so many questions about policing and about police accountability, it has been clear that we all agree that there is a lack of trust, and that increased transparency is essential to rebuilding that trust,” Fairley said at a press conference on Friday. “Today represents an important first step toward that end.”
What exactly did IPRA release today?
IPRA put more than 300 video clips online, along with lots of audio recordings and police reports.The recordings come from a lot of different sources, including police dash cams, blue-light cameras, the 911 call center, smartphone videos, and business surveillance cameras. The material posted today is from 101 incidents.
The new official policy is to put this kind of material online any time police shoot someone, hurt someone with a Taser, or injure someone who’s in custody — within 60 days of the incident. Investigators can get a 30-day extension if they say it would disrupt their case. But they get only one of those extensions.
What do these first videos show?
A lot of the recordings seem to show very little — hours of things like cops milling around at crime scenes and grainy images of tree tops. But some do show shootings and things like cops punching people in the face.
IPRA chief Sharon Fairley told reporters that “these materials may not convey all of the facts and considerations that are relevant to an investigation of an officer’s conduct.”
“Sometimes videos may capture only a portion of an event and leave out critical facts and context that are also relevant when assessing the conduct of anyone that’s involved in an incident,” she said.
Here’s an example of what she means:
One of the videos shows a 28-year-old man near a South Side bus stop in 2012. His shirt is off, he’s pacing and looks angry. He charges toward an officer. That cop shoots him twice — in the stomach and a foot. The man falls down but then resists being handcuffed. Police then use a Taser on him.
We see most of this on one of the videos — it came from the CTA. What we don’t see on that video is that this guy had been attacking people on a city bus right before all this. That’s the kind of information investigators get from police reports and recordings from 911 calls. In this case, the man survived the shooting.
What sort of reaction is this new IPRA policy getting so far?
The unions that represent police officers and sergeants both say they’re considering legal action. The head of the sergeants union points out that the city, under its contract, can’t identify sergeants who are under investigation — by picture or name — until the investigation is complete.
Some police-accountability advocates, on the other hand, say the videos should have to go up sooner than that 60-day window, but they’re also calling this a big step forward.
For more background listen to this playlist that traces the headlines IPRA has made in the last year.