After five straight days of protests over the police shooting of of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy offered their new plan to hold police officers accountable: more body cameras.
The move may not appease the thousands of Chicagoans who have joined the protests. Though dashboard camera footage existed showing Officer Jason Van Dyke unloading his pistol at McDonald, officials withheld it from the public for over a year and lied about its contents until they were forced to release the video by court order last week. Emanuel and McCarthy have been accused of participating in a cover-up of the shooting. According to Emanuel, 1,200 to 1,400 new cameras will be distributed within the next year. Since January, 30 cameras have been worn by cops as part of a CPD pilot program.
“Expanding this successful program into one-third of the city will help enhance transparency and credibility as well as strengthen the fabric of trust that is vital between police and the community,” the mayor said on Sunday. Earlier this month, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez tweeted her support for body cameras, as it “helps the police and the civilian at the same time.”
But the handling of the Van Dyke investigation shows how Chicago police can manipulate body cameras to fit their desired narrative. Capturing the footage is only the first step in a process the CPD and other police departments have easily obstructed.
Besides withholding the footage, audio of the shooting appears to have been tampered with. Sirens can be heard in the video, but the gunshots and cops’ voices are missing. Alvarez claimed that “no audio was recorded,” and Superintendent Garry McCarthy pointed to potential technical difficulties to explain the missing piece. But CPD officers are required to turn on audio and visual capabilities on their dash cameras, and none of the five videos released by the department have audio of the actual shooting.
A Burger King manager also came forward to accuse police officers of destroying 83 minutes of the restaurant’s surveillance footage, including the time when McDonald was killed.
As calls for more police accountability have intensified over the last year, police departments across the country have implemented body camera programs. But because videos recorded by body cams and dash cams tend to remain in the possession of the police, they can be suppressed or edited without the public’s knowledge. For instance, the dash cam footage of Sandra Bland’s violent arrest looked like it had been tampered with before it was released to the public. An officer in St. Louis was also caught on camera warning her colleagues to turn their cameras off before they beat a driver during a traffic stop.