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

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

Ayoung 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.

ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

A Chicago po­lice of­fi­cer keeps watch in June near West 61st Street and South Hal­sted Street in En­gle­wood.

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