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McCarthy: It’s good to record officers


Updated: March 30, 2012 1:20PM

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said last week the Illinois law against recording conversations between police and civilians is just as bad for the police as it is for citizens.

McCarthy’s comments may help State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) pass a bill out of her committee Tuesday reversing that law.

As a police official in New York and New Jersey, McCarthy found it helpful to record officers politely but firmly informing protesters that if they did not end their protest, they would be arrested. That prevented brutality suits against his officers, he said.

McCarthy planned to use the same approach with the Occupy Chicago protesters.

“The first night, after we made 147 arrests, the goal was to assure that what was recorded was the fact that, ‘Excuse me, sir, you are in violation of the law; You are about to be arrested; You have the opportunity to leave. If you choose to leave, you can leave now. If you choose to stay, you will be arrested.’ Which was the warning that we gave every single one of the 147 people that were arrested that night,” McCarthy told a panel at Loyola University on Wednesday.

“The next day, I said, ‘Let me see the videotape.’ All I saw was this:” McCarthy pantomimed officers mouthing words to protesters.

“This is a foreign concept to me,” McCarthy said. “This is problematic, because the idea was to show exactly what we were doing was giving people warnings . . . It was an enlightening moment for me. . . . Illinois is the only state in the union that has such a law.”

McCarthy was careful to say it is his job to enforce the law, not to advocate for changes in law and policy. But part of the procedure he hopes to use for managing protests at the G8 and NATO summits in Chicago this fall is video- and audio-recording of arrests. If Illinois still bans audio-recording of arrests, that complicates his plans.

“I actually am a person who endorses video and audio recording,” he said. “There’s no arguments when you can look at a videotape and see what happened.”

McCarthy was joined on the dais by an attorney for the ACLU — which is challenging the law’s constitutionality in federal court — and by Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“It is unique in the nation,” Dalglish said of Illinois’ law that requires “two-party consent” — both people being audio-recorded must consent to it.

Nekritz’s bill seeks to narrowly change part of the law, allowing citizens to record officers who are on-duty in a public place.

A downstate judge recently ruled the law unconstitutional, and the federal court in Chicago may weigh in on the issue shortly.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Chicago officers, has opposed changing the law out of fear citizens will selectively edit footage of officers to make them look bad.

Citizens have been arrested for recording officers.

A Cook County jury last year threw out charges against a woman who taped two internal affairs investigators coaxing her to drop a sexual harassment complaint against their fellow officer.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office brought charges against the woman, Tiawanda Moore, under the state’s peculiar law. No action was ever taken against any of the officers.

Ironically, because the interrogation room where Moore filmed the officers was not a “public place,” the proposed narrow change to the law would not have helped her, Nekritz said.

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