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Chicago Police May Soon Be Wearing Body Cameras

December 19th, 2014 at 7:20 am

surveillance, Illinois defense attorney, constitutional rights, Cook County criminal defense attorney,In the wake of public outrage over the police killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri, some, including President Obama, have called for the use of body cameras by police. The hope is that requiring officers to use these cameras may prevent or provide proof of the behavior of bad officers while protecting those who do their jobs correctly. These cameras may also be extremely useful in criminal defense cases as they could provide an actual record of what happened or was said rather than jurors being forced to guess at which witness is more credible. It appears that Chicago police officers may be amongst the first to use these cameras, perhaps within the next couple of months.

Chicago Police Could Wear Body Cameras Within Two Months

Chicago’s ABC7 reports that Chicago police could be wearing body cameras within two months, according to Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. This comes after some police in Elgin have been testing the cameras for a year. The details of the Chicago program are not yet finalized. However, McCarthy told reporters that a number of officers have volunteered to use the cameras and that some sort of program should be up and running within 60 days.

Cameras and Conversations

While the use of cameras may seem like the obvious step forward to protect citizens from bad cops and to protect good cops from unfair complaints, not everyone supports their use. The Chicago Tribune reported on the discussion of body camera usage back in September. In that report the president of the union that represents Chicago police officers said that while he sees advantages of the body cameras, he has concerns that officers’ private conversations should not be recorded because their moments of dark humor could be misconstrued. While it is reasonable that a police officer, like anyone who sees horrific things in their line of work, may develop a harmless dark sense of humor, recording these conversations may be very important to detect officers who go beyond humor and slide into racist statements or other concerning behavior. Recording these conversations could tip off superiors that a problem is brewing so it can be addressed before it escalates into the use of excessive force or worse.

Destruction of Footage Should Not Be Allowed

The Tribune report also indicates that some are proposing that the body camera footage should be destroyed after three months unless there is a citizen complaint about the officer’s conduct or there is a criminal investigation into his or her conduct on that day. Destroying these recordings would be a huge mistake. First of all, the routine destruction of this footage would prevent investigators from examining an officer’s pattern of behavior if a complaint is filed against him or her in the future.

Second, destruction of these tapes would, in some cases, be the destruction of evidence in criminal cases. Since the statute of limitations for any crime is much longer than three months, a prosecutor who is slow in charging a defendant might not charge him or her until after the vital evidence on that tape has been destroyed. This regularly happens in some states, like Missouri, with dashboard camera footage in drunk driving cases.

Finally, routinely destroying this footage may lead to the accidental destruction of footage that is not supposed to be destroyed, which also has been known to happen with dashboard camera footage. While it’s true that storing this footage will take up electronic storage space, we are no longer in the days of VHS tape. Storing data is easier now than it has ever been. While destruction may be necessary at some point, it needs to strictly regulated and footage relevant to criminal investigations must be kept at least until the statute of limitations expires or all appeals in a criminal case are exhausted.

Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a crime, it is important that you obtain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you protect your rights. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact the experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley and schedule a consultation today.

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