Body cameras coming to six more Chicago Police districts

CHICAGO (FOX 32 / STMW) - The city has named the six new Chicago Police districts that will take part in the city’s body camera program.

Since January, Chicago Police been testing only 30 cameras in the Shakespeare District on the Northwest Side. Interim Police Supt. John Escalante and the mayor’s office announced in a statement Wednesday that officers in six more districts on the South and West sides will wear body cameras beginning spring 2016.

"We do think it will make us a better department, a more professional department," said Escalante.

The districts chosen for the expanded program are the West Side Austin and Ogden districts and the Wentworth, Deering, South Chicago and Gresham districts on the South Side, according to the announcement. These districts were chosen based on a review of patrol activity, crime patterns, calls for service and geography.

After the Sun-Times reported last month that the slow-moving but promising pilot program was only expected to move into one more district in January, the city announced a major expansion of the CPD body camera program.

The announcement came after the department began to face harsh criticism and demand for increased police accountability in light of incidents such as an officer’s videotaped killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

“While body cameras are just one tool and not the only reform needed, this technology will soon be a regular part of every interaction – routine or extraordinary – between residents and police officers in more communities across our city,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the announcement.

Uniformed officers and supervisors will wear cameras that will be able to record up to 72 hours of audio and video on a single charge, authorities said. The program will launch in early spring next year when new camera technology goes on the market.

"72 hours of recording time, about the same battery life. High definition, good low light performance. Wi fi built in, all things that are not in the current version," said CPD Deputy Chief of Technology Jonathan Lewin.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago will evaluate the program’s implementation and its impact on perceptions and behaviors of both officers and community members. The research team will look at factors such as use of force, citizen complaints and police decision making while helping CPD train officers to use the body cameras.

Escalante said in the announcement that the expansion was “our next step in creating a more professional Chicago Police Department.” He credited the program, which has captured more than 850 hours on more than 5,000 videos since it began, with a 20 percent decrease in complaints against police.

"It's technology that I think officers have to understand that, as we've said, actually in more cases than not works to their benefit. And it can protect them more than it can hurt them," Escalante said.

The budget for the expanded program is about $2 million, according to the announcement. The mayor’s office matched a $1 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department, and CPD has applied for additional state grants to assist with camera purchases, storage, maintenance, licensing and upload stations.

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