This fall, Loyola’s private police force became the latest example of police departments across the country in equipping its officers with body-worn cameras designed to increase transparency and accountability.
But despite its apparent effort to improve community-police relations following a year of protests and allegations of misconduct, Loyola has shown it has no intention of subjecting itself to public scrutiny.
Instead, Loyola Campus Safety will keep the videos hidden, a Loyola spokesperson, Christian Anderson, said. The body camera policy will be used to feign transparency and distract attention from its dubious history of police procedure.
We call on the Loyola administration to follow its own vision, which “values freedom of inquiry [and] the pursuit of truth,” ending this hypocrisy. Body cameras are meaningless unless all the footage is made public.
It’s true that, as a privately-owned police force, Campus Safety isn’t required to release the footage. But Loyola campus cops have the same powers as any other officer: They carry guns, they make arrests and regulate traffic, and they have jurisdiction over thousands of Chicagoans who happen to live near any of Loyola’s two main campuses.
Yet despite the broad powers granted to them under Illinois law, Loyola is allowed to evade public records laws and has little public oversight.
Releasing body camera footage could be a step toward accountability. Instead, it’s just a smokescreen.
Police-worn body cameras first came to Chicago in 2015, following a push to reform the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in the wake of the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whose death at the hands of Officer Jason Van Dyke was captured on a CPD dashboard camera and later released.
All CPD patrol officers are now equipped with the cameras, which document all interactions between citizens and police. Furthermore, all footage from CPD body cameras are accessible upon request.
They’ve proven effective in showing an officer’s point of view.
This summer, a CPD officer fatally shot an armed man in the South Shore neighborhood. CPD released the officer’s body camera footage less than a day after the shooting, in what CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said was “in the interest of transparency & to dispell [sic] inaccurate information.”
In April, the University of Chicago published a body camera video showing a university-employed officer shooting a student who was swinging a metal pole. The student survived that shooting and was later charged with assaulting an officer.
The release of police videos has also led to real reform in Chicago.
In November 2016, a judge ordered the city to release the dashcam video of the shooting of McDonald after the city fought for months to withhold it.
The video showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times and sparked massive protests and a Department of Justice investigation that, in part, ripped CPD’s record on transparency.
Yet, Loyola is comfortable letting its campus cops lag behind their city-employed counterparts.
Loyola refused to release security footage of a Feb. 24 incident in which two students were detained by Campus Safety officers in the Damen Student Center. An independent investigation into the incident found one officer used “inappropriate control techniques” against one of the students by grabbing her by the shirt and jerking her toward a wall.
It also found “Campus Safety accountability would benefit from greater transparency.”
Still, Loyola doesn’t seem to care.
When asked whether students could see Campus Safety’s body cam footage, a university spokesperson told The Phoenix “I can say that’s probably not going to happen,” and Campus Safety Sgt. Tim Cunningham has not answered any questions on how footage could be requested or if students could see the footage at all.
Without making the footage available to the public, Loyola’s new body camera policy serves only to shield the university from liability and distract from the real issues at hand: inadequate record-keeping procedures, allegations of racial profiling and excessive force and questionable hiring practices that allowed a CPD officer who was fired for misconduct to find a new job as an armed officer at Loyola.
Loyola’s administration needs to put its money where its mouth is and come up with a way to make body camera footage accessible, as it is the only way the school can conclusively prove that its officers do not regularly use excessive force on students and local residents. To do anything less is contrary to their own Jesuit values and will do nothing to reform their police force.