CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Police Department will be equipping every patrol officer in the city with body cameras a year ahead of schedule.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson have decided to step up the deployment of body cameras, and have every patrol officer in all 22 districts wearing one by the end of 2017. Originally, the city planned to complete the rollout by the end of 2018.
Police officials outlined the new plan Wednesday morning. Officials said the cameras support the safety of officers while improving transparency.
Currently, officers in seven districts are equipped with body cameras. So far, those cameras have recorded more than 300,000 segments of footage since the beginning of 2015.
Town Hall District Police Cmdr. Marc Buslik said the cameras are not a panacea, but benefit officers and citizens alike.
“We think that the citywide use of body cameras within the department will provide a greater sense of self-awareness to both officers and individuals with whom they interact. A heightened recognition that police-citizen communications are being recorded will help our officers de-escalate otherwise tense situations,” he said.
The body cameras must be activated by officers when they arrive at the scene of any police response. Technology allows them to record 30 seconds of footage before they are turned on. The cameras are capable of recording up to 72 hours of footage on a single charge.
Buslik said researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are studying the body camera technology.
“They will be looking at how the program is being implemented, and what impact it has on the perceptions and behaviors of both police officers and community members,” he said.
A Chicago police officer’s body camera was not running when the officer shot and killed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal during a chase in the South Shore neighborhood in July, but it was turned on after O’Neal was down on the ground.
Three officers involved in the chase and shooting have been stripped of their powers amid an investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he was left with more questions than answers after reviewing dashcam and body camera video from the chase and shooting.
Body camera footage from two other officers revealed a chaotic scene as officers fired at O’Neal as he fled in an allegedly stolen car, before crashing and fleeing on foot. The footage shows one officer who was sitting in the passenger’s seat of a patrol car getting out of the vehicle and firing his weapon at the car O’Neal was driving as it sped past the officers. The officer hit the hood of his squad car and shot in the direction of his own partner.
That officer and his partner continued to shoot at the vehicle as it headed in the direction of more fellow officers in another squad up the street. O’Neal’s vehicle crashed head-on into a squad car, and one of the officers in that vehicle can be heard later on his body camera explaining that he didn’t know who was firing at him — his own department members or the fleeing suspects.
The potentially most telling video of all – that of a Chicago officer shooting O’Neal in the back – is non-existent because his body camera was not recording until after O’Neal had been shot.
Buslik said officers have been held accountable for not using cameras properly, but there are no plans for a formal policy punishing officers if they don’t use the cameras every time.
The expedited deployment of body cameras comes as the Police Department remains the focus of a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation of police use of force.