Chicago Police Union Reacts to IPRA Release of Videos, Audio

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On Friday, the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates alleged misconduct by Chicago police officers, began posting videos and audio clips related to 101 current investigations.

The so-called data dump includes 348 videos and nearly twice that many audio clips. Some of the videos show police officers throwing punches at the scene of a call. Others are more graphic as police open fire during situations that seem to be spiraling out of control.

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IPRA says the ongoing postings will help lead to more accountability and transparency in police investigations. But the police union disagrees.

This data sharing was one of the many recommendations in the Police Accountability Task Force report that was released in April, which came in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Anyone can now go to a website set up by IPRA and see many videos from dashcams, security cameras and cellphones as well as hear audio clips – mainly 911 calls – all related to investigations of alleged police misconduct. Many of the videos appear to show little or nothing at a police response scene. IPRA says those are used to give context to what might be happening in the area. But a few are much more graphic, such one in which an agitated man who had reportedly been hitting passengers on a CTA bus is shot by police.

Warning: Graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised. 

Above, one of the videos released by IPRA shows the shooting and Tasering of Ismaaeel Jamison by officers on Nov. 22, 2012. According to the police report, an officer shot Jamison twice. Jamison was handcuffed, continued to resist arrest and Tasered. Additionally,“while en route the offender repeatedly attempted to escape the ambulance and fight with paramedics.” An officer “subsequently Tasered the offender three times so paramedics could strap the offender to a medical board.”

Sharon Fairley, the head of IPRA, says this data and more to come will make the investigative process more transparent and help to restore confidence among Chicagoans that abuse of power by police will not be tolerated.

“It is my hope that this new policy will successfully balance the public’s need for timely information about these incidents and the integrity of ongoing investigations, whether they’re the disciplinary investigations that IPRA conducts, or criminal investigations that are conducted by our law enforcement partners,” Fairley said.

“It’s really important for you to keep in mind that these materials may not convey all of the facts and considerations that are relevant to an investigation of an officer’s conduct. Sometimes videos may capture only a portion of an event and leave out critical facts and context that are also relevant when assessing the conduct of anyone that’s involved in an incident.”

But Dean Angelo, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, says he strongly disagrees that these videos will restore confidence and trust. In fact he says they may do the opposite.

“I don't think IPRA is really aware about the residuals,” said Angelo. “We've had 13,000 police officers battered in the same eight-year period that they talk about where we have the 402 shootings.

“I don't understand the purpose behind it. I don’t know if you’re looking for outside input, if you’re looking for clicks – you know, are people clicking on these videos? Are they watching them, are they commenting on them? Is that going to influence an investigator that’s in the process of the investigation?

“If an investigator is assigned to this log number of this case, and they go online and they say, ‘My gosh. There’s 15,000 hits on this video that I’m assigned to, and there’s also comments – this officer should be fired – is that going to influence me?’ I don’t think that’s fair.”

IPRA is currently investigating more than 750 cases and the agency says the new policy is that any incident involving a fatality or severe injury of a civilian by a police officer – mainly shootings or with the use of a Taser – will be posted within 60 to 90 days. That's not to say that investigations themselves will be expedited. IPRA and its predecessor, the Office of Professional Standards, have long been criticized for the length of time it takes to review cases.

“We’ve got people that have been waiting for six years for closure on their allegations,” Angelo said. “These are people that are young enough now to find another job. But just let me know: Am I going to keep my job or am I going to lose my job?  What takes them so long?

“They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have the KSAs, I call them – the knowledge, skill or ability – to perform that task.”

Emanuel was out of town on Friday when the data-sharing site went live but praised the move and said many more reforms are coming including replacing IPRA with a new civilian agency.

‘A significant step toward transparency’

We spoke with Craig Futterman, founder of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project and law professor at the University of Chicago, about what the IPRA file release means for transparency.

Chicago Tonight: What is your reaction to the IPRA release of police video and audio files?

Craig FuttermanCraig Futterman

Craig Futterman: I think it’s impressive, and I think that it is a significant step toward transparency in Chicago. The challenge is: how do we implement transparency in a police department that has always operated in secrecy? We have to start somewhere. And this was a powerful place to start. 

CT: Is this what you envisioned when you began the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project?

CF: It’s part of it. It’s a piece of it. And the challenge is, this is in part trying to make up for decades of, again, secrecy and denial. But there’s something much more than that, too. It’s about honesty from the very beginning. When there’s a police shooting, when there’s an allegation of police brutality, that the department is honest from day one, keeps people informed throughout the process of the investigation … If there’s a video taken in a public area, the video should be released within 24 to 48 hours of the incident. That’s what better and more effective police departments are doing.

That’s one of the areas also in which the department continues – at least with respect to its policy – to fall short. Under the new policy, things like videos may be withheld for 60 days or more, and indeed there can be extensions – a 30-day extension beyond 60 days, and even indefinite extensions if the city seeks judicial approval. That policy falls far short of what’s necessary to build trust in Chicago and build trust particularly among the citizens of communities most affected by police abuse. The time when the public interest is most acute is when things are happening, and when an incident occurs, when someone is shot, people want to know what happened and what’s going on. And ‘Come back. We’ll tell you in 60 days’ just simply isn’t good enough to earn trust. There are ways to release information. There’s always the fine line of being transparent, being open and honest with the public, and not compromising the integrity of an ongoing investigation.

CT: The Police Union has said that releasing these media files during a pending investigation could put officers at risk for harm. Are officers at risk for harm if these videos are regularly released?

CF: There are lots of [public] lawsuits filed every year that identify officers and charge many officers of serious crime … There is absolutely no empirical evidence that information about police misconduct, and honest information about charges of police misconduct in Chicago have led to any retaliation or violence against police officers in Chicago, period.

CT:  Is there any risk that making these videos and audio files public could increase civilian distrust and perpetuate negative attitudes about CPD?

CF: [The distrust] has resulted from a code of silence, a lack of police accountability ... and the absence of effective police accountability mechanisms that have allowed the minority of abusive police officers to abuse some of the most vulnerable residents without fear of any punishment. The first step toward addressing those realities

One of the areas where there has rightfully been the least amount of trust has been in Chicago investigations into police misconduct. Making those investigations public … creates the incentives to do high-quality investigations and also lets people see that – if you’re doing good investigations – these are investigations that the people can trust.

The public can also trust the department to know that, no, the department and city doesn’t stand behind the officers when they abuse their power to hurt people, but indeed, [they] stand behind the thousands of good officers that serve us with honor and integrity. And that’s a great message to officers as well, that for the vast majority of officers out there whose names are tarnished and badges are tarnished by the smaller percent who’ve engaged in this abusive behavior, that this environment, I hope, is empowering to all those good, honest, ethical officers who have been afraid to stand up and speak out, even though they hate this as much as the most ardent outside critic. Hopefully this creates the conditions that will protect the vast majority of good officers, make their jobs better, make their jobs safer and actually diminish hostility, and eliminate the kind of hostility that’s caused by when you allow a group or groups of abusive officers to abuse with impunity.

CT: Will this kind of release of public information change policing in any way? Will officers be less inclined to make stops or take action for fear of being the subject of a police video?

CF: It shouldn’t, in terms of, this is what the job of policing is and this is also a new day and a new age in policing with the ubiquity of video … We give, and need to give police officers enormous powers, powers that nobody else has – the power to take people’s liberty, the power to arrest people, the power to use force against people, the power even to shoot and to kill people – and all in the name of keeping people safe. Every good police officer knows that with those extraordinary powers comes a responsibility and accountability to the public. Honest police officers welcome transparency, welcome accountability. It comes with the job … If a police officer doesn’t want public accountability and public scrutiny of his or her acts as a police officer, he or she has no business being a police officer. It’s that simple.

Note: this interview has been edited and condensed. Below, an example of the videos being released by IPRA.

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