Police are quick to release video when it shows someone they want to arrest. That is as it should be, because suspects should be apprehended quickly and the public should be alerted that a dangerous person is out there and shown the best evidence of how they appear.
Yet when there is something the police don’t want to share, such as an officer-involved shooting or misconduct, it gets labeled as evidence and is hidden from public view. It took a year before the video was released of a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teen.
Enter state Rep. Art Turner, a Chicago Democrat, and his bill to inject a judge into the process. The public would be able to seek police body cam and dashboard cam video under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and if the police have a reasonable reason to withhold the video they just need to explain that to a judge.
The former lobbyist for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police said video is evidence and its release could compromise an investigation. If that is truly the case, then tell it to the judge; a judge isn’t going to release video if it allows a criminal to escape justice.
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Video of police shootings will quickly tell whether the shooting was justified or whether the video fails to clearly show what happened. If it is evidence, that evidence will not change between the event and trial. If there is a secret informant shown, video editing can handle that issue just like all those brand names can be blurred out of all those reality shows.
Personal privacy concerns seem to pale against the potential to establish trust of law enforcement or expose abuses. Most police video is shot on the street or in public spaces where there is no expectation of privacy. And again, editing can protect privacy when needed or the judge can again be the arbiter between privacy, public safety and the imperative that public records compiled by public servants be publicly disclosed.
Ten states have already subjected the dash and body cam videos to Freedom of Information Act disclosure. Illinois should, too.