Opponents of a 2010 law banning covert recording of police officers in Illinois have a surprising new ally: Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who says the so-called Eavesdropping Act could be equally damaging to cops and civilians.
The Eavesdropping Act makes recording officers without their permission a Class 1 felony, but has been inconsistently applied by different sectors of the justice system who disagree on its merits, particularly in cases where audio spotlights police wrongdoing. In the recent high-profile case of Tiawanda Moore, who recorded police officers trying to talk her out of filing a complaint after she claimed she was sexually harassed by an officer, a jury acquitted her and called the county's charges against her "a waste of time."
At the same time, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has stood by her right to prosecute civilians who secretly tape interactions with police, punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the law. Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner defended the law with equal vigor when confronted with an American Civil Liberties Union challenge that included a request for an injunction against Alvarez, warning that rescinding the law would open the door for gang members and "snooping" reporters and bloggers to violate cops' privacy.
A new bill currently in committee, however, moves to reverse part of that law to allow officers on-duty in a public place to be recorded by civilians without their consent -- and McCarthy said in a panel at Loyola University last Wednesday that he's behind it. (See video above for McCarthy's statements at the panel.)
"As far as the use of videotape, I certainly endorse it, for the protection of the police as well as [civilians]," he said at the panel. "There's no argument when you show videotape and can look at what happened. I actually am a person who endorses video and audio recording."
McCarthy, who came to Chicago from New York, said video and audio recordings helped prove officers acted appropriately amid allegations of brutality following a series of protest arrests. He added that this material could be equally useful as police prepare for massive crowds of protesters when Chicago hosts the NATO/G8 summits this spring. McCarthy clarified that it's not his job to advocate for policy changes, according to CBS Chicago, but called objections to covert recordings of police interactions a "foreign concept" after finding the practice helpful during previous stints in other cities.
Eavesdropping Act opponents echo McCarthy's surprise that it remains on the books in Illinois--the only state to require both parties consent to a recording before it begins.
"It is unique in the nation," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reports Committee for Freedom of the Press who sat on the same panel, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Dalglish expressed support for a pending ACLU challenge of the law's constitutionality in federal court, after a downstate Illinois judge ruled the law unconstitutional recently.
Moore's escape from criminal charges was not typical, and other Illinois residents are currently facing prison time if convicted before the law is overturned. Artist Chris Drew faces up to 15 years in prison for videotaping his own arrest in 2009.
See the footage of Drew's arrest considered a violation of the Eavesdropping Act: