How Often Do Chicago Police Officers Fail To Activate Their Body Cameras? It’s Hard To Know

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A Pattern Of Failures

In the last year, CBS 2 Investigators uncovered multiple incidents where officers did not turn on or wear their body cameras, failing to capture critical moments. This includes missing body camera footage after Chicago Police officers raided the wrong homes and pointed guns at children.

In 2017, police wrongly raided the Mendez family’s home. During the raid, officers handcuffed an innocent man in front of his children. The family also alleged officers pointed guns at them.

While some body camera video from that raid exists, the first two officers who entered the home, along with the sergeant in charge, failed to properly use or activate their body cameras, which could have shown what else happened in the home.

“There’s a question of whether those protocols are adequate enough to capture an overall sense of these types of situations and how often they occur,” Ferguson said. “It’s a problem.”

The OIG report cited incidents that demonstrate the importance of compliance with policy, including CBS 2’s investigation into officers’ failure to activate their equipment, as well as the shooting death of Paul O’Neal, an unarmed black teenager who was shot in the back during a police chase three years ago. The body camera video of the officer who shot and killed O’Neal was not working when he opened fire.

“Given the context of strained relationships between the Department and the community in recent years, it is essential that CPD establish and reinforce a culture of compliance within its BWC program,” the report said, in part.

It’s unclear if any officers have been disciplined for body camera issues. The department’s current body camera policy does not outline specific discipline when or if the rules are violated.

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, works with other city police departments to help improve policies. He also writes and teaches about police behavior, body camera use, and search and seizure law.

He said a lack of accountability when body camera policies are not followed impacts the success of the program – one that can protect both civilians and police.

“Because if you can operate outside the rules and there are no consequences, you effectively have no rules,” Harris said.

Another key policy failure the OIG uncovered stems from the department’s Body Worn Camera Program Evaluation Committee.

The committee is tasked with producing reports and meeting quarterly to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and ensure officers comply with the policy.

But the OIG found the committee did not meet in the third and fourth quarters of 2017.

In mid-July, CBS filed a Freedom of Information Act request for final quarterly reports presented during the body worn camera Evaluation Committee. The Police Department denied the request. According to the OIG’s report, at least two of those quarterly meetings did not take place.

“If the rules say you get a camera, you make sure it works and you use it in these sorts of situations, and the officer did not do that, there have to be consequences,” Harris said. “If there are no consequences for that, your program does not serve the public. It serves only the police.”

Looking Ahead

The OIG outlined recommendations to the Police Department in its report. Among them are developing a standardized process for randomly selecting recordings for review and implementing an effective method for monitoring compliance. In addition, the OIG recommended the committee meets quarterly and regularly.

In a response letter to the OIG and its findings, the Police Department’s General Counsel, Dana O’Malley, acknowledged its need to improve compliance with reviewing body camera footage and identified plans for action. This includes working with its body camera service provider, Axon, to automate components of the random review process and also incorporate that process into the training curriculum for new lieutenant classes.

In addition, the report said the Police Department began taking steps during the OIG evaluation to improve the random reviews, including revising its policy to require lieutenants to log their reviews in reports and require districts to submit the reports to the Inspections Division each month.

The Police Department also plans to implement a dashboard that can indicate if supervisors are conducting reviews as required, the report said.

However, the report emphasized the Police Department did not provide a timeframe for when these goals would be met.

When asked for comment about the OIG report, the Chicago Police Department said, “We have not seen the Inspector General’s report as of yet.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office had not responded with a comment as of Tuesday morning.

This story will be updated.