On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the Chicago Police Department will be required to release evidence, including videos, related to a police shooting or incident of misconduct within 60 days of the incident. The recommendation came from the city’s Police Accountability Task Force, which Emanuel created following the city’s heavy criticism of the police department and of Emanuel himself.
“Restoring trust between our police and the communities they’ve sworn to serve is an essential part of our City’s public safety efforts, and this is an important step as we continue that work,” the mayor said in a statement. “Simply put, the longstanding policy the City followed for decades is out of date and this new policy strikes a better balance of ensuring transparency for the public while also ensuring any criminal or disciplinary investigations are not compromised.”
Departments may request a 30-day extension to the 60-day rule if needed.
Rahm called the new policy “an important step forward” but not the end as the government moves forward “to address issues that have plagued the City for decades.” He said the city intends to be “as transparent as possible, and that those police officers who do violate the public’s trust are held accountable.”
Community trust in Chicago’s police department and government suffered tremendously when the city refused to release video footage of the death of Laquan McDonald, who was gunned down by Officer Jason Van Dyke, citing an ongoing investigation. 400 days after the shooting, and after a judge compelled the city to do so, the video was released. Van Dyke was charged with murder hours before the video was released in anticipation of a protest.
When the video finally went public, its details did not match those provided by police officers. Enraged Chicago citizens cited a citywide cover-up and called for Emanuel’s resignation. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led some of the protests, said the city’s officers and justice system both needed “bold, comprehensive change.”
“In Chicago, officials offered no remedy,” Jackson said. “Instead, they sat on the tape for more than a year, buried the killing in an unending investigation, gave the officer a pass, and got through the elections.”
While the mayor said he had no intention of leaving his position, he did fire Garry McCarthy, former superintendent for the Chicago PD.
Earlier this month, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who Chicago citizens also called on to resign, said she did not think “any mistakes were made” during the McDonald investigation. This assertion came despite citing research in a previous interview that average police-shooting investigations take 261 days.
Not everyone is impressed with the proposed policy, the Associated Press reported — including Chicago resident April Cross, who said the rule “just gives [the city] time to alter the video” in some way.
“That’s not giving the people in the community faith in the police department at all,” Cross said.
Craig Futterman, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, called the policy an “improvement” but “an insufficient step” for earning the city’s trust.
“To establish trust, that means being honest from the beginning, not 60 days, 90 days later,” he said.
In other cities the wait time is much shorter — such as Seattle, where video footage is normally released within 12 hours of an incident.
McDonald’s case was not the only one to call into question the city’s transparency regarding police-shooting incidents as well as their associated videos. During the midst of the McDonald case, the city also fought to keep under wraps the video of the police-shooting death of Cedrick Chatman, who was murdered in 2013 by Officer Kevin Fry. Chatman, 17, was unarmed at the time of his killing. Fry alleged that he thought Chatman had a gun, which turned out to be a black iPhone box.
Lorenzo Davis, a former investigator with Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), reviewed the case initially and had access to the video footage before its public release. His report concluded the shooting was unjustified. Davis was fired from the IPRA, allegedly for refusing to change his report to call the shooting justified, and a new investigator found a “significant discrepancy” in Davis’ report and “the facts of the investigation.”
But the IPRA has come under fire for allegedly being biased in favor of police officers in its investigations. The IPRA is primarily made up of former law enforcement, which has led to more criticism. And according to Davis, other unjustified shootings have been buried by the IPRA as well.
“[Officers] have shot people dead when they did not have to shoot,” Davis said. “They were not in reasonable fear for their lives. The evidence shows that the officer knew, or should have known, that the person who they shot was not armed or did not pose a threat to them or could have been apprehended by means of deadly force.”
Chatman’s family filed a civil suit against the city, which prompted the request to release the video. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman, who ordered the release of the video, called the choice not to release the video “irresponsible” and a waste of time and money.
“I’m very disturbed at the way this happened,” Judge Gettleman said at the time. “This should not have happened the way it did.”