CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Police Department (CPD) promised to change part of its body camera policy that exempted some officers assigned to special teams from wearing body cameras after two of those officers shot a man in Englewood.
On Sunday afternoon, two CPD officers shot and wounded 20-year-old Latrell Allen, who CPD said fired a gun at them. The officers who shot Allen were assigned to the newly created “Community Safety Team,” created to combat a wave of gun violence that swept parts of the south and west sides in July.
Without body camera footage it’s still unclear exactly how the shooting happened. Police, Allen’s family and a neighbor who claimed he witnessed the shooting gave differing accounts. Many in the community initially thought Allen was actually an unarmed 15-year–old, sparking unrest across the city. But Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which is now investigating the incident, said the officers weren’t equipped with or wearing body cameras.
COPA said it reviewed POD video which captured the pursuit of a man matching Allen’s description, but asked the public to share any additional video that might exist.
The new Community Safety Team is largely made up of officers who previously worked in CPD’s SWAT, gang, gun and saturation teams, none of which required officers to wear body cameras, CBS 2 reported last year. That’s despite CPD’s repeated claims since the body camera program’s inception in 2015 that the technology improves transparency and strengthen public trust.
Officers on those teams are often on the front lines of the most dangerous situations, including responding to gang violence and executing search warrants in the middle of the night. CBS 2 found some of those warrants resulted in the homes of innocent families being wrongfully raided by armed police.
In one of the latest incidents CBS 2 exposed in February, CPD raided the home of an innocent family in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. In a federal lawsuit, Sharon Lyons alleged none of the 16 plainclothes officers who raided her home was wearing a body camera, except for the patrol officers who came to the home after the fact. That’s despite a new departmental policy requiring at least two patrol officers with body cameras to go in during the execution of any search warrant.
Because officers on some special teams aren’t required to wear body cameras, there is often no video evidence of the incidents at all. In May 2019, CBS 2 found many large police agencies require SWAT and other tactical teams wear body cameras for this very reason.
For more than a year, CBS 2 repeatedly asked CPD when these special teams would be given body cameras, but the department avoided giving a specific timeline.
But after the shooting of Allen, CPD promised for the first time to equip all officers on the Community Safety Team, as well as other officers who don’t regularly wear cameras, with the technology by 2021.
“The Department has been actively working to equip all gang investigative, saturation and narcotics teams with body-worn cameras,” the department said in a statement, in part. “And now, as these units have transitioned into the new citywide Community Safety Team and Critical Incident Response Team, we have prioritized all officers who are a part of these teams to receive body-worn cameras under the 2021 budget if they don’t already have one.
CPD acknowledged none of the officers on the Community Safety Team were equipped with body cameras at the time of the shooting in Englewood.
The department said its existing body camera contract is now being renegotiated to ensure all officers who interact with the public have the technology.