Why Chicago made scores of police brutality videos public

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: a major release of video exposing the police force in Chicago.

The relationship between many residents, the police and the mayor has been extremely tense for months now, leading to protests and suspicion, especially after a nearly two-year delay in the release of a video involving a police shooting.

The city has traditionally withheld these kind of videos until investigations were complete, but, under pressure, the policy has changed and Chicago now appears to be the largest American city to release videos showing potentially excessive force.

Jeffrey Brown has our report.

And a warning: Some of the images in this story may be disturbing.

JEFFREY BROWN: It's a stunning release for its sheer size and scope. Today, Chicago's Independent Police Review Board released scores of recordings related to 101 cases involving officer-related shootings and other incidents in which civilians were injured or killed.

The videos came from dashboard cameras and other sources. They involve alleged misconduct in cases that remain under investigation. In one video, an unarmed man was shot by police after he allegedly caused a disturbance on a bus and struck a driver.

Another, shot on a cell phone, shows police hitting someone after arriving at a scene where there was open alcohol.

Today, Sharon Fairley, chief administrator of the review authority, said the release is part of an effort to make the department more open.

SHARON FAIRLEY, Independent Police Review Authority: These past few months, as the city has struggled with so many questions about policing and about police accountability, it has been clear that we all agree that there's a lack of trust and that increased transparency is essential to rebuilding that trust.

JEFFREY BROWN: Fairley added, though, that the videos only show so much.

SHARON FAIRLEY: 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.

JEFFREY BROWN: For its part, the police union called today's release of the videos irresponsible.

Anger and frustration with the police department came to a head last year after a video was released showing a white officer killing black teenager Laquan McDonald. The event occurred in 2014.

Facing a firestorm, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sacked the police superintendent, replacing him with a new chief, veteran Eddie Johnson.

And let's go to Chicago for reactions to these videos from Lori Lightfoot, former chair of the city's Police Accountability Task Force. It was formed by the mayor after criticism of the department and his office. She's now president of the Chicago Police Board, an independent civilian group appointed by the mayor.

And welcome to you.

Your task force had called for this kind of thing, the release of videos. Why was it important and why has it finally happened?

LORI LIGHTFOOT, President, Chicago Police Board: Well, it's important because this information from these incidents is something that people in the community care a lot about.

They want to know what happened. They want to know what specific actions police officers have taken, and whether or not those actions are consistent with law, ethics and respectful of community engagement.

So moving this process forward to this point with the release of video, audio and also police reports is a very, very important step towards accountability and really restoring legitimacy of the police department in a lot of communities across Chicago.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it possible to say yet what we have learned today from these recordings, either in terms of individual cases or some larger patterns or themes?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: I think it's too soon to tell that.

As the lead-in said, this is 101 cases. It's a significant volume of data, but I know people are going to be spending time going through that, and I think we will learn more about it in the coming days. But I think we should focused on and emphasize the point that Chicago now becomes a leader in transparency and putting this kind of information out.

It is a very big and important moment in our history.

JEFFREY BROWN: We heard — you heard Sharon Fairley talk about the limitations of these videos, in terms of how — in some cases how much or how little it shows us. Do you agree with that, that we should be careful in watching them?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: I do agree with that, because the videos by definition are going to capture a particular snapshot in time from a particular perspective. They're not going to tell the entire story.

Now, many times, those videos and the audio will be meaningful and giving the public an understanding of what has happened when. But Sharon, I think, is 100 percent right that the public, while I think it's important for them to see this information, see it in a timely fashion, they have to recognize that it's not going to tell the entire story in every single case.

JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of initial feedback, if any, are you getting at this point in the community that was so eager for something like this?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Well, I think very positive.

Some of the folks who, frankly, have been the most critical of the police department and the city for not being transparent, for forcing folks to file either FOIA requests or, worse, lawsuits, I think, are surprised at the scope and the breadth of this.

We announced this policy back in February. We're now at this moment, many months later, where the policy has actually been given life. And I hope that, on a going-forward basis, people recognize that once this information now becomes in the public view on a regular basis, that they will understand better the complexities and the nuances of police encounters in these very challenging circumstances.

JEFFREY BROWN: The police union, as we said in our setup, is not happy with this. I read a quote to you from the head of the union.

"The concern is that they're putting this out there and the officers' kids and neighbors are going to see it and we're not getting the entire incident."

Your reaction?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Well, Dean Angelo, unfortunately, has been on the wrong side of change and reform really since the last six months.

He made a lot of, I think, unfortunate comments about the release of the task force report and our recommendations. And I think he's wrong about this. In the long run, being transparent is something that actually, in my view, will aid the officers out there on the street. It will give the public context for the tough job that they have, the work that they're doing and, frankly, will be a teaching moment and opportunity for young officers to look at what their peers are doing in different circumstances and to really learn from that going forward.

It's unfortunate Dean Angelo and the FOP really seem fundamentally resistant to change and reform, but this is happening. And it's going happen whether or not they're on the bus or whether on the back end of the bus or on the street, but reform and change has got to come.

JEFFREY BROWN: Just very briefly, in 30 seconds, if you could, your task force had called for — had been very critical of the police force. Do you see changes taking place yet?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: We see some small steps in the direction.

I think this is a really big, important step, but there is a lot more that needs to be done. And with anything that comes, there's got to be public engagement, there's got to be transparency, so that people understand exactly what's happening, they have an opportunity to give input. And that's the only way legitimacy is going to be established.

JEFFREY BROWN: Lori Lightfoot, thank you very much.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Thank you.

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