Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Make a gift to NHPR and have a Valentine's message to a loved one read on air!

Video Release In Chicago Police Cases Is Unusual, Experts Say


And this kind of data dump about police use of force cases is very unusual. Experts in police oversight say they've never seen anything quite like it nationally. And it shows how arbitrary the release of this kind of information can be. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: There's always a degree of cynicism when officials release this kind of audio and video. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been struggling to restore public confidence in the police oversight system. So Dean Angelo, Sr., says he saw this coming. He's the president of the police union there.

DEAN ANGELO, SR.: So we expected that this would be part of a political approach to appease, you know, the communities and the neighborhoods. And, you know, everybody wants to stay in office. Everybody wants to get elected. And now it's, you know, tough on the police. Vote for me.

KASTE: Angelo says releasing information this way is unfair to the officers being investigated.

ANGELO,SR.: Don't be just putting things out there and then getting the temperature of the community say, you know what? Fire Dean Angelo. Why would I fire him? He's never done anything. Because of that video.

KASTE: It's a concern that can be understood by anybody who's ever worked as a police officer.

PIERCE MURPHY: I don't know if you've ever had anybody complain about you, but I have. I don't like it.

KASTE: That's Pierce Murphy. He used to be a cop, but now he's a civilian and the director of the office that oversees police in Seattle, a city that's gone through an intense reform process over the last few years. While he understands why cops don't like this information out there, he says nowadays, openness is the only way. He says the traditional secretiveness of police departments just doesn't work anymore now that cellphone videos are online before the investigation even gets started.

MURPHY: The cat's out of the bag. We can't stop people from posting on the internet snippets of video that show whatever it is that person thinks they want to show. All the more reason for police agencies or those that oversee them to be as transparent as they can and provide the context in which those videos should be viewed.

KASTE: But here's the problem. There are no standards for how that transparency should work. Some cities release video and audio only after an investigation's over. Others will release things early if it's a high-profile case and there's political pressure. So the public gets a sense that it's arbitrary. Yale Law School professor Tracey Meares studies how people perceive the justice system.

TRACEY MEARES: I think the cry that we've heard across the country for more civilian oversight is more a reflection of the demand for more transparency and more fairness in procedure.

KASTE: And yet, procedures are all over the map. The federal government can't dictate local rules for when to disclose information. But it isn't even trying to suggest guidelines. Even the president's task force on 21st-century policing didn't go there. It was set up after Ferguson, and Meares was on it.

MEARES: That kind of specificity didn't come up. So our task force had a very general and foundational interest of the relationship between trust and these ideas of procedural justice and legitimacies.

KASTE: And that's how police reform usually works in this country. There may be a new national emphasis on transparency, but it's still up to local authorities to decide what that means in practice. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.