Imagine if your workplace introduced a new body-camera program. Every meeting, every movement on the factory floor or in the delivery truck – all of it – gets uploaded each day to the company’s web site. And maybe a random hallway conversation, too. Make you a little edgy?
Well, Chicago got a whole group of new TV stars last week, but they weren’t exactly seeking fame. Three officers were relieved of their police powers and taken off the street pending an investigation into their handling of the Paul O’Neal shooting after their body cams revealed some questionable procedures.
We’re all in uncharted waters. The public has never had a nine-camera video compilation of a police shooting before, in high def with pretty crisp audio. It begins with a nail-biting high-speed run along South Shore streets as officers go searching for the now legendary black Jaguar. They find it – when it crashes head-on into them. And we have a front-seat view. In the adrenaline rush that drives the chase from the two smashed-up cars, it’s pretty clear that one of these officers is the individual who ends up shooting O’Neal in the back. Maybe it happened in the alley, but maybe he was already shot in the car by other officers firing from behind. It’s an amazingly chaotic scene. But is it unusual? The video take us right into the middle of the action, where we’ve never been before. And it’s important not to rush to judgement.
(You can see all the videos, via the Tribune HERE.)
Jeremy Gorner has been covering the O’Neal shooting as part of the Tribune’s excellent crime beat. Carol Marin has covered police/community relations for decades on television and print. Both join us today to help us understand the videos.
“What I believe superintendent Eddie Johnson saw and acted upon quickly were certain basic tenets that were violated,” Marin tells us. “Among them, you don’t draw your gun in the car. Why? Because you may be slamming on the brake and you may end up shooting in that car. You don’t fire at a moving vehicle that’s moving away from you when you don’t know who’s in there, and when the vehicle is the only thing right now at issue. Your life is not at stake. And when you’re firing you’re not firing at the same time that a police car is coming in, so that the trajectory of that bullet could go not just to the offender, but to your fellow officers.”
“I think there’s two issues here,” adds Gorner. “There’s, was the shooting justified or was the shooting because of lack of training. And I think that people look at that video, just from talking to experts, talking to other police officers there clearly were some serious training issues based on looking at that video. The problem is is that the actual fatal shot that killed Paul Neal we don’t know what happened because that wasn’t captured on camera.”
“For the first time we’re seeing how all this stuff kind of works, and I think it’s kind of an education for reporters too,” Gorner continues.” Whenever we go to crime scenes we have the lens from behind the yellow tape, and yeah, we can eavesdrop on what police are saying to grieving families, what they’re saying to witnesses the best that we could, but you know, this kind of takes you within a crime scene.”
The training issue seems to be the one thing on which most observers and stakeholders seem to agree.
Second City Cop is the blog that gives voice to police and represents the views, often anonymously, of everyday officers. It was quick to identify poor training as a major culprit.
“They did,” says Marin, “and over three days and in pretty granular fashion they, and they said you may not like this fellow officers, you may not like this, and they raised among many issues the business of drawing your gun in a vehicle, firing at a moving car. They really dissected this with police eyes and with an eye to… A friend of mine is a brand new Chicago police officer, and I sent to a family member of his the Second City Cop citation saying for no other reason than just observe this as a training exercise. Take a look at what other police officers have decided to say. A lot of people don’t like Second City Cop. It can be a pretty toxic website, but it also can say some more trenchant things about what’s going on.”
But, says Marin, there are other issues, including the age-old discussion about diversity in policing.
“What we also saw from that video is that there wasn’t much diversity in an African American neighborhood. There was, I saw only, and I didn’t see all of them, but I think only one African American white-shirt, right, sergeant, I think an Hispanic officer…but virtually everyone else on the scene was white. And one of the complaints that you hear from the community and one of the issues raised by the taskforce that the Mayor appointed was that the community doesn’t see its face reflected in the people who patrol its neighborhoods.
So do the Mayor and Superintendent Johnson get credit for the remarkable release of video?
“I mean they had to do it, right?” asks Gorner. “Laquan McDonald was a total game-changer, and had that video not been released who knows what changes would have been made or would have not have been made?”
“Or is it about time? ” Adds Marin. “And frankly, for those of us who are still fighting with Freedom of Information Act Requests, for the Law Department, Police Department, IPRA even under a new day we are still not getting the documents or the materials that the public is entitled to with the speed outlined under the law.”
We also talk about the CPD’s “predictive policing” program in which the police attempt to predict who is in danger of being involved in serious trouble, such as getting shot or shooting someone else. And we ask whether the agreement with the ACLU earlier this year that resulted in the effective elimination of “contact cards” which were a favorite of former Sup’t McCarthy, and also resulted in a dramatic reduction of police stops, is related to he simultaneous spike in shootings.
Gorner says it’s not as easy a connection as it might seem. But there’s another possible factor – and it has to do with how much money some police officers can make.
“There’s an overtime program that was established for officers in the last few years. After Hadiya Pendleton died they boosted it where they put maybe a couple of hundred officers each day working in like the 20 most violent neighborhoods. And in order to be eligible for this overtime program you have to fulfill… It’s not a quota so to speak, but in a way it’s like, I don’t know, I mean they describe it as a quota. In order to be eligible for the overtime you have to make X-amount of arrests each month. And you’ve got to stop X-amount of people. That’s how it used to, I don’t know if it still is, and you have to write X-amount of contact cards…When the contact cards were around. So you figure, I mean a lot of police officers I talked to speculated that there’s an incentive to writing contact cards, because you want to get that extra money to work overtime”
And we ask whether the scathing report the Justice Department released this week on the Baltimore Police Department might the predictive of the one that’s still to come about the Chicago Police.
“It’s the template,” asserts Marin. “It’s the template that the Justice Department will apply I think to this City as well. And if you look at what they wrote about Baltimore and you compare it what the taskforce analyzed about racism, police problems, governmental problems, the economy, the community, I think what you see in Baltimore is like a transparency you’re going to simply superimpose largely, and it’s what justice is going to say about Chicago.”