More Than 300 Videos, Even More Documents, Still Many Unanswered Questions
The recent release of material by Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority was meant to mark the start of a new era of transparency for the agency that investigates police shootings.
It also revealed the limits of the new policy.
Many of the videos come from police dash cameras. WBEZ counted 72 discrete cameras mounted inside of squad cars - often spread across multiple video clips. Of those, 39 did not have working audio, although all dash cameras are supposed to have microphones.
And in a few instances, the video itself was malfunctioning and impossible to see.
In February, after reporting by DNAInfo drew attention to officers intentionally damaging their equipment, the Chicago Police Department revised its policy on in-car video systems.
The new directive bans officers from altering their in-car cameras, and requires supervisors to make sure all recording equipment is in working order.
All eight of the dashcam videos released last week that come from incidents after the new directive do have working audio.
Beyond that, very few of the videos show the actual use of force under investigation, and the videos almost never come from the car of the officer actually involved in the incident.
That means many of the videos come from cars arriving well after the use of force, or the cameras are pointed away from the incident. The result is hours of shots of the backs of ambulances and police cars, or front lawns being strobed by blue police lights.
The videos that do show something useful mostly come from sources outside of the department’s control, like private security or cell phone cameras.
IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac said she too noticed a lack of footage from the squad cars at the center of the action. But she said the videos released are all that the agency has from its open cases.
And she pointed out that often shootings occur after a foot chase or away from the police car and that’s likely why they’re usually not caught on the dash cam videos.
The release also intentionally left out many detailed reports from the incidents.
Take the case report from the December 26 shooting of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier: It gives basic info like time and location, but then it reads “for the narrative and investigative details refer to the detective’s supplemental report.”
That line is in many of the documents -- but those supplementary reports weren’t made public last week.
Sissac said that’s because the detective’s reports weren’t mentioned explicitly in the recommendations by the mayor’s task force on police accountability. She said with a release this large, they could only include elements specifically named.
Finally, the recent data dump combined with other investigative materials from IPRA show a large hole in the cases made available to the public.
The policy requires the agency to release material from all open investigations, but there are many shootings that aren’t included in the new release and aren’t recorded as closed on the IPRA website.
In 2014, agency data show there were 43 police-involved shootings, there are 14 cases with final reports indicating they have been closed, and 18 open cases that were part of the most recent release. That leaves 11 police shootings from 2014 that weren’t included in the release and don’t have publicly available final reports.
That number is nine for 2013, and 10 for 2012. There is no such gap for 2015.
Sissac said those missing cases do not mean they are still open, rather she said they are still working on making all of the final reports from police shootings available to the public.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid. Katie O’Brien, Greta Johnsen and Chip Mitchell contributed to this story.