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When Chicago cops don’t wear body cameras, trust in policing erodes

After a police shooting in Englewood on Sunday, so much false information and ill will could have been avoided had the officers been wearing bodycams.

A Chicago police officer on patrol earlier this year. None of the officers involved in the shooting of Latrell Allen, 20, on Sunday, Aug. 9, were wearing body cameras.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

A young man is shot by the police in Englewood. The cops say he had a gun. The cops say he shot first. The cops say they were defending themselves and protecting the community.

That shooting on Sunday, which triggered a wave of downtown looting, originally was reported in a different — and false — way by anonymous people on social media who seemed bent on stirring up a violent backlash.

Early tweeters said the person shot was just 15, though he was 20, that the police had shot him 15 times, and that he was dead. In truth, the young man, Latrell Allen, was wounded but not killed. On Monday night, prosecutors charged him with shooting at the police. On Tuesday, he remained under police watch at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

So much of this confusion, false information and ill will could have been avoided — and trust in the police would have been encouraged — had the officers involved in the shooting been wearing body cameras. If the incident unfolded just as the officers later said it did, bodycam video would have supported their story.

But the officers were not wearing body cameras. The Chicago Police Department had failed to outfit them with the cameras for budgetary reasons.

And that is indefensible.

Nothing is more essential to effective police work than the trust of a community, and body cameras can be a uniquely powerful tool in building that trust. As we have seen time and again in Chicago, bodycam video has a way of refuting disinformation and lies while holding everybody accountable.

We can think of few better ways for CPD to spend its money than on body cameras and training for every officer who works the streets.

On Monday, CPD explained why the officers in Englewood were not wearing body cameras by making a distinction without a difference. CPD said the officers were members of a newly created Community Safety Team, not district-assigned officers who routinely are equipped with body cameras.

As if that matters to a cop on the street.

But now, CPD added, the department has “prioritized” that members of the Community Safety Team will receive cameras “under the 2021 budget if they don’t already have one.”

Eventually, CPD may unearth better documentary evidence of how and why Allen was shot. The department reports that video footage from POD cameras — stationary police cameras in the neighborhood — captured “some of the events.” And investigators continue to look for private video footage.

But a great deal of damage has already been done, especially with respect to trust and faith in the police, because nobody was wearing a body camera.

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