Police Supt. McCarthy Comes Out Against Eavesdropping Act

CHICAGO (CBS) — It is illegal to record a conversation with a police officer if you get pulled over or have a run-in, but police Supt. Garry McCarthy says that should change.

McCarthy said the state law against recording conversations between police and civilians is just as bad for the police as it is for citizens.

His comments may help State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) pass a bill out of her committee Tuesday reversing that law, called the Eavesdropping Act.

The law, approved in 2010, makes recording officers without their permission a Class 1 felony.

As a police official in New York and New Jersey, McCarthy found it helpful to record officers politely, but firmly, informing protesters that if they did not end their protest, they would be arrested. That prevented brutality suits against his officers, he said.

McCarthy planned to use the same approach with the Occupy Chicago protesters.

“The first night, after we made 147 arrests, the goal was to assure that what was recorded was the fact that, ‘Excuse me, sir, you are in violation of the law; You are about to be arrested; You have the opportunity to leave. If you choose to leave, you can leave now. If you choose to stay, you will be arrested.’ Which was the warning that we gave every single one of the 147 people that were arrested that night,” McCarthy told a panel at Loyola University on Wednesday.

“The next day, I said, ‘Let me see the videotape.’ All I saw was this:” McCarthy pantomimed officers mouthing words to protesters.

“This is a foreign concept to me,” McCarthy said. “This is problematic, because the idea was to show exactly what we were doing was giving people warnings . . . It was an enlightening moment for me. . . . Illinois is the only state in the union that has such a law.”

McCarthy was careful to say it is his job to enforce the law, not to advocate for changes in law and policy. But part of the procedure he hopes to use for managing protests at the G8 and NATO summits in Chicago this fall is video- and audio-recording of arrests.

If Illinois still bans audio-recording of arrests, that complicates his plans.

“I actually am a person who endorses video and audio recording,” he said. “There’s no arguments when you can look at a videotape and see what happened.”

McCarthy was joined on the dais by an attorney for the ACLU — which is challenging the law’s constitutionality in federal court — and by Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“It is unique in the nation,” Dalglish said of Illinois’ law that requires “two-party consent” — both people being audio-recorded must consent to it.

Nekritz’s bill seeks to narrowly change part of the law, allowing citizens to record officers who are on-duty in a public place.

A downstate judge recently ruled the law unconstitutional, and the federal court in Chicago may weigh in on the issue shortly.

Multiple people have been arrested and have faced serious charges for recording officers.

In August of last year, Taiwanda Moore, 20, was acquitted of a felony violation of the act, after she secretly recorded two police Internal Affairs officers while filing a sexual harassment complaint against a third officer.

Moore had said she didn’t know about the Eavesdropping Act, but her attorney argued that she was protected under an exemption to the statute that allows such recordings if someone believes a crime is being committed or is about to be committed. She argued that the officers had been stalling and bullying her.

No action was ever taken against any of the officers.

Meanwhile, artist Chris Drew is awaiting trial on charges of violating the Eavesdropping Act when he was arrested in December 2009 for peddling his art without a permit on State Street downtown.

Drew was charged with videotaping his own arrest, and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

And in November of last year, Loyola journalism professor Ralph Braseth was taken into custody after videotaping the arrest of a teenage boy who jumped the turnstile at the Chicago Avenue Red Line subway stop. Breseth had been shooting for a documentary about youth from poor neighborhoods flooding the downtown area on weekends.

Braseth was released without charges, but the arresting officer erased the files on his Kodak flip camera. He later filed a complaint against the officer, claiming that videotaping an arrest from the distance was different from recording a conversation and thus did not violate the Eavesdropping Act.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Chicago officers, has opposed changing the law out of fear citizens will selectively edit footage of officers to make them look bad.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

  • Tom

    There are cameras all over Chicago recording activity 24 hours a day. Granted, it’s only video but who cares if a coversation is recorded between a cop and a citizen or vise versa. From the cops perspective, wouldn’t you want proof that would show the cop did nothing wrong if a citizen or crook made a basless complaint against the cop? Leave it to Illinois. The only third world nation in the U.S.

  • ra

    COPS already look bad on their own I doubt being on camera would make them more likely to be put in a bad light

  • mike

    With their dashcams and body mic’s the police record you for evidence, why can’t we record video or audio for our evidence. I’ve watched alot of good and bad officers on youtube and if their in public working for the public there should be no privacy unless it is a warrented undercover opperation.

    • PH83

      CPD don’t turn on their camera in car or mics that’s why ppl have been trying to record their incidents with the law and is why in 2010 the law was changed so you couldn’t record your incidents with the law. its all about keeping things quite if you don’t have video proof its a criminals word against an officer of laws word. Not a big surprise to see who wins this debate.

  • dan

    The only such state law in the entire country….Enough said get it changed. If cops can record arrests the what is the big deal-and experts can tell if recordings have been edited.

    Might help eliminate cops from overstepping their bounds and not FOLLOWING the law themselves.

    I like this new top cop-he is straight up no BS!

    • Sam

      Don’t you mean, he isn’t much of a team player?

  • Dave

    Unfortunately there are alot of police haters, especially in Chicago. It only takes one fool to record something out of context and then use it to smear the police. The person who recorded Rodney King resisting arrest only recorded the result of resisting, rather than the acts that led to his arrest!!! That can be dangerous, look at how it stirred up the criminal element in LA!!!

  • Chivi

    Record visual and audio. Everyone that deserves to go down should go down regardless if it is a cop or not. We cannot carry firearms and badges like cops to defend ourselves. Let us legally carry recorders. Best weapon yet.

  • Afro

    McCarthy is a dumb fuk and so is any other cop that would arrest anyone for merely packing a firearm for protection I wouldn’t p!ss on any of them to save their ass from burning to death!

  • Leon Johnson

    What cops cant shoot in the back for fear of their cowardly lives,now thats a change,and breaking the traditiobn of killing for this country that is gone down in mess,by last mayor.gov. and lies, and stealing, money blaming others for evil things to brake this state ,and city,cant save city,or state,good work.

    • Kenny

      HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa, Leon, your mastery of the English language is most impressive!!!!.

  • doug

    Mr. McCarthy scored some well deserved points today,

  • McCarthy Comes Out

    He is sooooooo cute. Nice nightstick.

  • JMHO

    Hey Afro, did it ever occur to you that the cops aren’t the ones that make the laws? If you and “Leon” had any kind of common sense, you would know that. The police are just doing their jobs. As for your last sentence, that feeling is mutual. Do us all a favor, get some education, and then maybe a job and figure out how things work. Both of your comments are meaningless.

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  • http://newsworlddigest.com/move-advances-to-lift-ban-on-recording-police-officers/ Move Advances To Lift Ban On Recording Police Officers | newsworlddigest.com

    […] But Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has come out in favor of changing the eavesdropping law. He … […]

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