Officers in 17th District receive body cameras





by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI

The 17th (Albany Park) Police District is one of the final districts in the city to receive body cameras for patrol officers as part of ongoing police reform efforts.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Eddie Johnson have announced recently that in addition to Albany Park, the 25th (Grand Central) District, the 12th (Near West) District and the 5th (Calumet) District all have patrol officers who are equipped with body cameras. Emanuel and Johnson said that the CPD has become the largest deployment of body worn cameras in the nation.

"We’ve just got them recently and the officers know that they are required by law to have them, but since we just got them we don’t have that much feedback on them yet," said 17th District police commander Elias Voulgaris.

"The superintendent advised us that we would be getting the cameras and we trained everybody in how to use them, and so far it’s all going smoothly and there have been no problems. It’s a new system for us and I know it’s part of accountability and it will help us with getting information on suspects, but it also will help the officers from false accusations," he said.

Voulgaris said that the cameras feature good quality video and audio, but that they can be turned off in certain circumstances. The cameras are lightweight, durable and can record 8 hours of high-definition audio and video on a single charge. The cameras seamlessly integrate with CPD’s existing cloud-based evidence servers, assisting detectives in investigations and strengthening court cases, according to a press release from Emanuel’s office.

"There are times we turn them off such as when there are children involved or it’s for something more personal such as bathroom breaks," Voulgaris said. He said that there are about 200 officers in the districts. "Every patrol officer has one. Everybody has them. I’m wearing one right now," he said.

In total, more than 7,000 sworn CPD personnel, including all district-assigned CPD officers, tactical officers and supervisors, are now equipped with body worn cameras, the release said. The program is part of the department’s commitment to strengthen crime fighting and investigatory tools, increase transparency and accountability, promote the safety of officers and residents, and rebuild trust with the communities that police serve, according to the release.

"Technology can support accountability and transparency, but it is just a tool. When accompanied by philosophies of community policing, these tools can be used to create teachable moments that strengthen safety and trust in every neighborhood," Emanuel said.

"The completed expansion of body cameras to our patrol officers marks an important day in our continued work to foster transparency, while also providing our officers greater resources," said superintendent Johnson. "These devices have played a large role in protecting the rights of the citizens we serve and have shown firsthand the dangers CPD officers face every day to make Chicago safer. Moving forward we will remain committed to identifying ways we can rebuild public trust and help our officers do their jobs more effectively and safely."

In 2015, CPD launched a body worn camera pilot in the in the 14th (Shakespeare) District on the Northwest Side and expanded to six more districts in 2016. While the initial rollout was planned over 2 years, at the end of 2016 CPD announced the expedited expansion and completed the rollout one year ahead of schedule.

In preparation for widespread use of body worn cameras, district stations have undergone infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increased bandwidth and technology associated with the AXON II cameras.

In term of crime in Albany Park, Voulgaris said that the biggest problem the district has been facing recently is robbery crews that conduct multiple robberies. He said that overall burglaries have decreased recently but that theft of catalytic converters has increased.

"People go on Facebook and they let each other know of these incidents but they don’t let the police know. People tend to panic when they hear that a crime has happened, but most people don’t realize that crime has happened all the time for a long time. You just never heard about it. Now with social media it’s you hear about it constantly from all over the city," Voulgaris said.