Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday embraced a recommendation for the city to release videos of police-involved shootings —and serious injuries suffered in police custody — no later than 60 days after such an incident happens.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel called it an “important step” to rebuild public trust.
Still, the recommendation from Emanuel’s handpicked task force isn’t radical compared with other cities such as Seattle, which tries to release videos of police-involved shootings within just 12 hours of such an incident.
Emanuel said the 60-day rule will become “policy and practice of the city.”
He said it will help repair a broken relationship between citizens and police, which was made even worse by the video played around the world of a white police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of a black teenager.
“This strikes the right balance between the integrity of an investigation and the right of the public to know,” the mayor said.
Emanuel’s newly created Task Force on Police Accountability, which made the recommendation, said an additional 30-day delay could be granted after a video is created, but only if a law enforcement agency asks for it in writing.
“There’s no question there’s a lot of anger, frustration and skepticism on the part of the public” triggered by the city’s decision to keep the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps for 13 months, said Lori Lightfoot, a co-chair of the task force and president of the Chicago Police Board.
The 60-day timeline would cover all video and audio from dashboard cameras, 911 tapes, dispatch recordings, police radio calls, body cameras, POD cameras, and video and audio made by third parties that comes into the city’s possession.
Arrest reports, incident reports, tactical response reports or officer battery reports also would be covered by the 60-day edict.
The task force is recommending that the city create a website or portal for posting video, audio and police reports —and publicize it.
But before sensitive information is released, the task force recommended that the Independent Police Review Authority notify those captured on video or audio or their relatives, if those people are deceased.
The task force’s recommendations don’t go nearly as far as other departments have gone in making such video public quickly.
“We do our best to get them out within 12 hours,” Seattle Police Detective Patrick Michaud said.
He said the Seattle Police Department releases five to 10 dashcam videos of police-involved shootings every year. The policy to make the videos public within 12 hours was created about two and a half years ago, Michaud said.
“We have not had a ‘bad shooting’ since we started putting these out that quickly,” he said.
On Jan. 10, the Seattle Police Department released dashcam video and audio of an officer shooting and wounding a knife-wielding man the previous afternoon.
The officer was responding to a report of a man who tried to steal a car and was armed with a knife.
On the video, an officer says to the man, James Slade, “show me your hands” and then repeatedly shouts “drop the knife,” but Slade keeps walking forward. Out of the camera’s view, the officer shoots the man four times.
After he was shot, Slade yelled, “Please kill me.”
Police released the video almost 12 hours after the shooting, records show.
Slade’s shooting remains under investigation, police said. It was Seattle’s fifth police-involved shooting in six months.
Emanuel has been under fire for keeping the McDonald video under wraps for more than a year and waiting until one week after the April 7 mayoral runoff to authorize a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family, even before a lawsuit had been filed.
The video was released on the same day that Officer Jason Van Dyke, the officer involved in the shooting, was charged with first-degree murder. A judge ordered the release of the video.
In December, Emanuel apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” death of McDonald and acknowledged the “code of silence” in the police department.
In the past, the mayor has emphatically denied keeping the McDonald video secret for political purposes. On Tuesday, he was asked if he believes he can ever persuade Chicagoans in general, and African-Americans in particular, that he didn’t sit on the video until he was safely re-elected.
“My goal and the actions I’m taking are about rebuilding trust between the public and the Police Department. It’s not about me. It’s about establishing an important level of trust between the public and the police because that’s essential for public safety,” Emanuel said.
He emphasized that he asked the task force to take on a series of issues and look “top-to-bottom — nothing was sacrosanct.” The policy governing video and audio release is only step one, he said.
“This is going to be a long road because the road getting here was also very long between Abbate, Burge, Summerdale,” the mayor said, referring to other Chicago police scandals.
“My view, though, is that we can” get there, he said.
Lightfoot argued that the 60-day time line “strikes the right balance between a number of competing interests.”
Why not sooner than 60 days?
“There’s been a huge proliferation of video-taped evidence from city-controlled equipment, private property and cell phones. The sheer volume and the necessity to identify, collect and analyze all of that information takes a significant amount of time,” she said.
“Videotape and audio evidence can be incredibly powerful. We want to make sure that fact witnesses provide information based on their own recollection — not a recollection that’s been unduly influenced by video they saw, audio they heard or a something they read in a report.”
She said the task force will “encourage the city to review the policy after one year to see if that 60-day period can be shortened.”
Emanuel created the task force on the same day he bowed to pressure to fire Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
The five-member panel, with Chicago native and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick as its senior adviser, was charged with recommending reforms aimed at improving “independent oversight of police misconduct” in the wake of the furor over a white police officer’s October 2014 shooting of McDonald as the 17-year-old was walking away from Van Dyke.
The task force also was asked to strengthen an early warning system to identify and evaluate the handful of Chicago Police officers whose conduct draws multiple citizen complaints and establishing best practices for release of videos of police-involved shootings and other incidents.
In addition to Lightfoot, Emanuel’s five-member panel includes: former deputy Chicago Police superintendent turned Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau; Inspector General Joe Ferguson; former federal prosecutor Sergio Acosta; and Randolph Stone, a former Cook County public defender-turned-professor at the University of Chicago Law School.