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Emanuel launches body-cam pilot to rebuild trust between citizens and police

Chicago Police officers who volunteer to wear body cameras in the Shakespeare District will launch a long-awaited pilot program this week aimed at rebuilding trust between citizens and police in neighborhoods overrun by gang violence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he chose the Shakespeare District because it’s a multi-cultural “melting pot” and a good place to “work out the kinks.”

McCarthy refused to say how many officers would wear the body cams or how long the pilot would last. But he’s confident the “very expensive” experiment will be a success.

“Everybody acts better when it’s on film — whether it’s the individual you’re speaking to or the officers themselves,” the superintendent said.

“Where it’s been used across the country, complaints against officers have dropped dramatically. And it will clear up those issues where it becomes a he-said, she-said. Because now we have video evidence of it.”

While the pilot will be limited to volunteers, McCarthy acknowledged that there are pockets of resistance.

“There’s two things people don’t like: the way things are and change. Any time you change, you get some resistance. There’s a little bit of trepidation, but they’re coming around,” the superintendent said.

“It will be turned off and on, depending on whether or not they’re taking a police action. The component that I really like is, as soon as you turn it on, there’s a 30-second lag time. So, it’s not like they’re turning it on and you’re not gonna see what just happened to precipitate them turning it on.”

The body-cam experiment was a cornerstone of Emanuel’s anti-crime agenda for a second term, unveiled before a small, hand-picked audience of community leaders and public safety-advocates at the Kleo Center,  119 E. Garfield Blvd.

The mayor was introduced by Cleopatra Pendleton, mother of 15-year-old murder victim Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down at a park in broad daylight just days after performing at festivities tied to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

Cleopatra Pendleton introduced Emanuel as “our current and future mayor” and talked about the “welcome ear and open heart” that the mayor  provided as the family coped with its “unbearable loss.”

In addition to body cams, Emanuel’s anti-crime agenda for a second term includes what he calls “Operations Impact 2.0 — a sequel to the program that has flooded 20 high-crime neighborhoods with moonlighting officers who have racked up $100 million in annual overtime.

The plan will deliver long-promised “wrap-around city services” to those zones, setting the stage for “long-term economic development” that empowers local residents to control their own neighborhoods.

If and when those neighborhoods are strong enough to keep a permanent lid on violence, the moonlighting officers will be moved to “other neighborhoods and new impact zones,” the mayor said.

Emanuel also promised to provide summer jobs for a record, 24,000 young people this year and 25,000 by 2018.  That’s nearly double the 14,000 young people served when he took office in 2011 at a time when the federal government was pulling out of the business of providing summer jobs.

When the Chicago Police Department closed the books on 2014, McCarthy took a bow for a 30 percent reduction in overall crime over the last four years and for the lowest murder rate in nearly 50 years.

Emanuel, whose own son was mugged on the Ravenswood street where the mayor’s family lives, reiterated those figures Tuesday.

But he took no comfort in those gains because he knows they mean absolutely nothing to Chicagoans who live in gang-infested neighborhoods or to children who have been deprived of their childhood.

“We have seen the victims of gun violence, while they are not counted as victims. We see it in the eyes of our kids who have had their hope, their sense of optimism taken away because the sound of a gunshot is more familiar than the sound of laughter of a child next door,” the mayor said.

“This is not just about a gun going off. It’s about stealing the youth and optimism from our kids. We owe it to `em . . . to give them the safety and, most importantly, their childhood back. No child should be prevented from sitting on the front porch with their grandparent because of fear. No child should be restrained from going down to the park or playground. No child should not be allowed to walk to school because of fear. That fear changes lives, and that fear takes away a sense of hope and optimism and expectation.”

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units.

The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.

The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies.

When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100.3 million in 2013 and $95 million last year.

During Tuesday’s speech, Emanuel confronted what his opponents call a broken promise head-on.

“I promised to put 1,000 more police officers on the street where they’re needed — not behind desks in office buildings or in specialized units that don’t get to know the communities they serve,” Emanuel said. “And that’s what we’ve done, not by breaking the bank, but by being smarter about using the officers we already have.”

“We moved hundreds of officers from behind desks . . . And we’ve graduated more than 1,100 new officers, keeping our force at full-strength . . . We made sure we were putting them where they were most needed — in 20 Impact Zones in neighborhoods with the highest crime. Neighborhoods like Roseland and Lawndale,” he said. “In those areas, shootings are down 33 percent. Murders are down 28 percent. Overall crime is down 21 percent.”

Last fall, Emanuel asked reluctant state lawmakers to soften Illinois’ war on drugs to let non-violent offenders off the hook and free police officers to focus on more serious crimes.

Emanuel wants the Illinois General Assembly to go beyond what he did in Chicago with disappointing results — by decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana and reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor the penalty for possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance.

“Many of the leaders in this room know that too many young men of color are doing time for non-violent offenses, most of them drug-related,” the mayor said.

“Mass arrest and incarceration is not the answer for these kinds of crimes. They also can poison the relationship between young people and police. That’s why Garry McCarthy and I have been focused on reducing crime and reducing arrests. That’s why I proposed and support a statewide law to reduce penalties for minor possession of narcotics. We have to work together to reduce incarceration and make sure our criminal justice system — from our courtrooms to our prisons — is focused on violent gun offenders who pose the biggest threat to our neighborhoods.”

On Tuesday, the mayor vowed to breathe new life into the plan and to renew what he called the “fight of my life” for legislation that controls the flow of illegal guns into Chicago.

The mayor also talked about using body cams to build a “foundation of trust” so undermined by torture allegations against convicted former Area 2 commander Jon Burge and his c0horts.

But his speech didn’t mention the biggest step he could possibly take toward that end: by pressuring the City Council to approve a long-stalled reparations ordinance to compensate victims who claim to have been tortured by Burge and his midnight crew.

Last week, Emanuel vowed to find a way to achieve “closure” for victims with complaints of torture for whom the statute of limitations has run out, but made no specific financial commitment.

Darrell Cannon, Mark Clements and other torture victims have put a steep price tag on closure that goes far beyond the mayor’s public apology.

They’re demanding that Emanuel pressure the City Council to approve a stalled ordinance creating a $20 million reparations fund and threatening political retribution against the mayor if he doesn’t.