An illustration of a body-worn video camera or "bodycam" commonly used by police forces. Wikipedia.

Chicago police officers in the 14th (Shakespeare) district, which covers the Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods, will begin wearing body cameras soon as part of a pilot program that, in the future, could possibly be implemented in districts throughout the city, including Austin’s 15th. 

“Over the past three and a half years we have led a return to community policing, fostering stronger relationships and building partnerships between our hard working officers and the communities they serve,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement issued by Chicago police on Jan. 20.

“Through these cameras, we can use technology as a tool to continue to build the trust between officers and residents that is essential to achieving our shared goal – continuing to reduce crime in our communities,” he said.

Officers on the 14th District’s third watch will participate in the program, which requires them to wear two kinds of equipment: Body Worn Cameras (BWC) and Point of View Cameras (POV).

According to the statement issued by Chicago police, “BWCs are clipped to an officer’s outer garment while POVs are clipped to the officer’s glasses, goggles or head gear.

“Officers will activate the system to record all routine calls of service, investigatory stops, traffic stops, foot and vehicle pursuits, emergency driving situations and high-risk situations,” the statement reads. “They will inform any individuals they come into contact with that they are being recorded. Thirty cameras will be tested during the initial pilot program.”

The camera equipment is being provided by TASER International, Inc., which is also providing body camera equipment to officers in Los Angeles and New York Citiy, in “addition to major jurisdictions around the United States.”

According to the department’s statement, CPD “will incur no cost for the pilot program,” but the pilot program may be a boon to TASER’s stock price. The price of shares in the company hit a 12-month high, according to media reports. 

The body camera technology is part of what McCarthy called a “post-Ferguson world” at a news conference last year. 

In the wake of the increasing media attention given to the police killings of unarmed black men across the country, politicians and law enforcement officials have touted the body camera technology as a possible means of mitigating the wave of police killings and other abuses of police power.

According to a Reuters article published April 2014, Chicago police “have shot and killed 100 people over the past 6 years.”

“Although the shootings are almost always found to be legally justified, the City of Chicago has payed out millions of dollars in civil settlements to families of some people killed by the police,” Reuters reported. “About 80 percent of the people killed by Chicago police are black men…”

“As a police officer for more than 35 years, I’m excited about this new program because it will ensure more transparency from CPD and a new view of the work performed by our officers,” said Superintendent McCarthy. “While they are not the be-all-end-all, I believe bodycameras will strengthen police and community relations.”

Critics of the techology say that while it may benefit the profits of security firms, it won’t help protect the actual people who suffer from police abuse.

A Nov. 2014 CNN report, for instance, noted that the shares of another company, Digital Ally, rose 750 percent one day after Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. Shares have fallen since, but the company is still in a better position than before the shooting.

“Why did the stock pop in August in the first place? Investors seemed to be betting that the events in Ferguson could lead to more demand for Digital Ally’s FirstVU HD body worn cameras,” CNN reported.

And that’s before real-world tests, studies or experiments (such as the CPD’s pilot program) on the effectiveness of the cameras at curbing police abuse had a chance to be conducted.

The Los Angelest Times reported this month that not everyone who will be surveilled by the cameras trust them. During a community meeting in that city, the Times reported a growing tide of community skepticism in the cameras.

“Dozens of residents who filled a South L.A. gymnasium Wednesday night expressed doubts over the Los Angeles Police Department’s plan to equip its officers with body cameras, raising concerns over civilian privacy and public access to the footage,” the paper reported.

“Several people gathered at the Green Meadows Recreation Center also questioned whether officers would try to manipulate footage, citing the recent example of Southeast L.A. officers who tampered with voice-recording equipment in their patrol cars,” according to the report.

“Absence of real human change, what we’re being given is technology change,” the Times reported one man saying. “We need to concentrate on justice, not just cameras.”