While it's too late to make the pathway any clearer for police oversight during Chicago's NATO Summit, a proposal that would amend the state's controversial eavesdropping ban was approved by a 71-45 vote in the Illinois House Tuesday.
House Bill 3944, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), allows citizens to record on-duty police officers in a public place, currently a felony under legislation Nekritz calls "outdated," according to the Daily Herald.
Under the current law, any individual who video or audio records a law enforcement officer, even in a public space, can be arrested and charged with a class 1 felony, a lesson Tiawanda Moore learned after she was threatened with felony charges and jail time officers after she recorded a conversation with police investigators where she accused a police officer of sexually harassing her.
Moore sued the city and the police department after spending more than two weeks in jail on eavesdropping charges, and in a series of appeals, her case and others like it received conflicting rulings over the law's constitutionality.
Moore was acquitted. Earlier this month a federal court said that the law "likely violates" the First Amendment, and called for the state to stop prosecuting those facing eavesdropping charges.
But in late 2011, a judge from the same court that ruled the law unconstitutional expressed support for the eavesdropping ban, arguing that allowing exceptions for audio recordings would be "a bad thing," and could lead to more "snooping around by reporters and bloggers."
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has been an unlikely source of support for the amendments, and argues that they can protect police by providing evidence of officers doing their jobs correctly in the case of police brutality accusations or other conflicts between law enforcement and civilians.
Yet many police officers disagreed with McCarthy, especially as the NATO -- and, at a time, G8 -- protests approached. Patrick Coughlin, deputy chief of the narcotics bureau in the Cook County state’s attorney's office, told the Forest View Suburban Life that the language on the chopping block protects the individual rights of police officers, and objected to statements from Rep. Nekritz and other supporters who say freeing citizens to police law enforcement will level the playing field.
"Because of the Illinois eavesdropping statute, officers cannot record that conversation without a court order," Coughlin told the Suburban Life. "This is not leveling the playing field. This is giving more rights to private citizens to collect evidence of a crime than officers have."
To that end, the state Senate approved a separate eavesdropping measure Tuesday that would allow police to make audio recordings of drug deals with permission from the state's attorney, according to the Chicago Tribune. Presently, a judge must sign off before police can violate the state's dual consent requirement for recorded conversations.
That legislation now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Nekrtiz's eavesdropping amendment will next be sent to the Senate for further debate.
Update: In the state Senate Thursday, Nekritz's bill appears to have stalled.