The Independent Police Review Authority, the department in charge of providing oversight and accountability for the Chicago police department, has published police reports, audio recordings and over 300 video clips of specific law enforcement incidents. The massive release is a clear attempt to rebuild the department’s public image, damaged after a string of scandals.
The content is now available on the IPRA’s website. The videos came from a collection of bystanders, police dashcams and even new bodycam technology, showing 101 different cases dealing with officer-involved shootings, tasings, or any incident where “great bodily harm” occurred. The policy mandates that police must make evidence videos available to the public “no later than 60 days” after the incident occurred. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the procedure official Feb. 16.
“Decades of secrecy and institutional denial should give us reason for skepticism about this,” University of Chicago Law School professor, Craig Futterman said. “But I look forward to seeing whether this will really be a significant step in the direction.”
Futterman was an integral player in compelling the city to specifically release the McDonald Video. On October 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times in 13 seconds, creating a barrage of complaints. Controversy erupted once police released the dashcam video. Thousands of protestors, including the civil rights advocacy group Black Lives Matter, called for Emanuel’s resignation. In January, one BLM organizer, April Goggans, interrupted the United States Conference of Mayors holding a sign that read “16 shots and a cover up #LaquanMcDonald #ResignRahm.”
Emanuel felt compelled to directly address the onslaught of criticism in an op-ed penned for the Chicago Tribune. Emanuel wrote “what happened last October 2014 on South Pulaski Road should never have happened. Systems should have been in place to prevent it. Supervision and leadership at every level of the police department and the oversight agencies should come into play.”
It appears that the releasing of around 300 more video clips is a compounded gesture for increased accountability.
The many grievances expressed against the Chicago Police Department were not merely pertaining to independent cases like the McDonald incidence, but what some saw as a systematic approach of perpetual police misconduct. From August 2004 to June 2015, police detained and questioned more than 7,000 people in a covert warehouse called Homan Square. The “off-the-books interrogation warehouse” clearly violated constitutional rights. According to data disclosed by the Guardian, only 0.94% of the 7,185 detentions over the 11 years had access to a lawyer. Emanuel stood up for his employees during his reign, saying they “follow all the rules.”
In May, a police accountability task force that Emanuel established requested that the IRPA should be dissolved in lieu of a transparent Civilian Police Investigative Agency. Emanuel took their suggestion to heart and in a separate op-ed for the Chicago Sun Times, stated his intention to discontinue the oversight agency. Less than a month later, with the release of the new material, the agency appears to be Emanuel’s main tool for transparency.
Civil-rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is not too hopeful. He lamented the situation as exposing “cancer without any commitment to a remedy”.
The Mayor and the Chicago Police Department is attempting to solve a difficult problem; establishing trust for one of the country’s most secretive and powerful police departments. “This has been a tremendous undertaking” said Sharon Fairley, who heads the IRPA.
The Chicago Police Department Superintendent, Eddie Johnson, released a statement briefly addressing the new published content. Johnson announced, “The release and availability of this evidence illustrates the challenges our officers face every day when they put their lives on the line to protect the city of Chicago. I have often said that CPD is only as effective as the faith and trust the community has in it and I believe that this will go a long way in promoting transparency.”
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