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Police Supt. Johnson: Expect leeway on body cam learning curve

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Monday stressed there will be a grace period of sorts for Chicago police officers to remember to turn on their body cameras as they get used to the new devices.

“We have to give them time to get them familiar with the equipment,” Johnson said at a news conference held at a Northwest Side police station. “As we move forward, we’ll look at each situation on its own merit. And if we can show that the officer intentionally [did not activate a body camera], then there will be disciplinary action.”

The department is on track to outfit every police patrol officer with a body camera by the end of the year. So far, about 4,800 have been acquired. A total of 8,200 will be deployed by year’s end. The last officers to begin using cameras are from four North Side police districts.

The first batch of body cameras were placed on officers in 2015, before the department chose to expand the pilot program.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said he was not aware of any instances so far in which an officer was disciplined for failing to record.

Officers are required to double-tap the chest-mounted cameras to activate the device whenever interacting with the public, at which point a green light on the camera turns to red and it beeps every 60 seconds, indicating it’s recording.

There have been instances when officers thought they were turning the camera on but were actually turning the camera off, Guglielmi said.

Officers are also required, when possible, to inform citizens they are being recorded on audio and video.

“Sometimes you don’t have time,” Johnson said. “Somebody’s shooting at you, you think you’re going to take time out to say, ‘Uh, wait a minute, just so you know, while you’re shooting, we’re recording.'”

Asked if he thought the cameras might deter people from sharing information with the police, Johnson responded: “Well, that’s always a possibility, but, you know, I’ll tell you this, we’ve seen where citizens love recording what we do, so now we’re recording what they do.”

If someone requests that an officer not record an interaction because they wish to share sensitive information, the direction will be left up to the officer. Other instances when it would be appropriate to turn off the cameras include when interacting with victims or if an officer is inside a hospital.

It’s required by state law that body camera footage be stored for a minimum of 90 days. Not all footage will be reviewed.

“We would need an army to review all that footage,” Johnson said. “If we need to go back and look at it we will. But we’ll have things in place where we’ll do random checks of the footage.”

The cameras are being leased, along with tasers, for about $7.5 million a year by the Arizona-based company Axon. The city is picking up most of the tab, with some help from federal grant money.