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Chicago to speed up rollout of police body cameras

A Chicago Police officer is shown in a recording made by another officer's body-worn camera. | Chicago Police photo

All patrol officers in Chicago will have body cameras by the end of 2017, a year earlier than originally planned, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced Wednesday.

Emanuel called the body cameras a win-win for officers and the public and said they provide both a firsthand look at the situations officers face and will help to improve public trust and transparency.

Chicago’s body camera program began in January 2015, according to the city. Since then, officers recorded more than 300,000 segments of video footage. A pilot program was first launched in the Shakespeare District on the Northwest Side. In early 2016, the city expanded the program to include the Austin, Wentworth, Deering, Ogden, South Chicago and Gresham districts.

City officials announced in the fall that they planned to roll out the program to the Englewood, Harrison, Chicago Lawn, Grand Crossing, Grand Central and Near North police districts in 2017, the city said.

Officer Michael Edens shows off one of the first body cameras used by the Chicago Police Department. | Frank Main / Sun-Times

Officer Michael Edens shows off one of the first body cameras used by the Chicago Police Department. | Frank Main/Sun-Times

The final eight districts — Calumet, Near West, Jefferson Park, Albany Park, Town Hall, Lincoln, Rogers Park and Morgan Park — will now get body cameras a year earlier than planned under the program’s accelerated expansion.

“A heightened recognition that police-citizen communications are being recorded citywide will help our officers de-escalate otherwise tense situations, and reduce the number of incidents necessitating the use of force, as well as the number of complaints against police,” Johnson said. “The net benefit is greater safety and security to our officers, and an overall improved interaction with the general public.”

The body cameras worn by police are able to record up to 72 hours of high-definition video footage on a single charge, the city said. They also will record audio during encounters.

The program is being studied by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Research in Law and Justice. Researchers will look at how the program is implemented and what impact the body cameras have on how police and the public interact when they have contact. The research team, led by Dennis Rosenbaum and William McCarty, will attempt to determine if the cameras affect the level of civility and respect between officers and the public during encounters.

UIC will also assist the police department with the evaluation and development of their training program.