Chicago police to roll out body cameras ahead of schedule

By Em Steck
Medill Reports

The Chicago Police Department says it will roll out its body camera program across all districts before the end of the year as part of the city’s promise for greater police accountability.

A total of 8,157 “body worn cameras” will be deployed to patrol officers in Chicago by Dec. 4 across all 25 districts, one year ahead of the city’s plan to bring more transparency to the police force.

“This is a very aggressive rollout. When we’re done, by the end of this year, every patrol officer in every district that works in the field will be equipped with a body worn camera,” Chief Technology Officer Jonathan H. Lewin said in a press conference.

The body cameras are part of the department’s larger mission to build better community relations with civilians after a string of scandals and controversies, including the death of Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.

McDonald’s death in a police shooting brought greater national attention to civilian deaths by police officers after police released dash-cam video in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The video and subsequent investigation resulted in Officer Jason Van Dyke being charged with first degree murder in McDonald’s death. Last Thursday activists held a rally called “Laquan McDonald Day” in front of police headquarters to honor McDonald’s life, and demand greater police accountability and reform.

“This is a very aggressive rollout. When we’re done, by the end of this year, every patrol officer in every district that works in the field will be equipped with a body worn camera,” –Chief Technology Officer Jonathan H. Lewin

“Body cameras are helping improve the quality of service we provide to communities throughout Chicago,” said First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro. “The technology has been embraced by police officers and community groups alike because these tools are crucial in our efforts to strengthen community trust, promote officer safety, and ultimately make Chicago safer.”

The department has deployed more than 4,000 AXON II body cameras across 12 police districts, creating over 1 million video segments since its pilot program launched in January 2015. The body cameras are approximately the size of a playing card deck and attach to an officer’s outerwear gear. They must be turned on and off manually and are able to record up to 8-hours of high-definition video on a single charge.

The video and audio upload automatically to the department’s unlimited cloud-based storage, where it stays for a 90-day period unless any incident captured on the recording has been flagged, according to the department’s online directive.

“Like any new technology, their comfort level improves the more they use them. And the more that they see that the cameras tend to back up the officer’s versions of events,” Lewin said.

A look a the Axon 2 Body Camera. SOURCE: Axon press kit

The police department has partnered with the University of Illinois to study the effectiveness of body cameras and survey police members. Preliminary results, Lewin said, are promising. Lewin also cited a study from the University of Cambridge which found a 93 percent reduction in citizen complaints against police officers who wore body cameras.

The department claims Chicago’s is the largest officer-worn body camera program in the nation.

PHOTO AT TOP: Officer Wearing Axon 2 Body Camera. (Photo via Axon Press Kit)