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Every Chicago patrol officer now equipped with body camera

CHICAGO -- Every Chicago patrol officer is now equipped with a body camera and the Chicago Police Department is now equipped with the largest deployment of them in the nation.

On Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the more than two-year rollout project throughout the city is complete.  About 7,000 officers will be outfitted with body cameras and it’s all happening a year ahead of the expected timeline.

This effort to increase transparency, improve officer accountability and strengthen community trust began in 2015 on the Northwest Side in response to a number of shootings by Chicago officers.

The project grew in urgency after the release of a video showing an officer fatally shoot Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Residents said the completion of the initiative will help restore trust.

"The trust wasn’t there before, but since we have the body cam, you have everything on it, and you can hear what the person is saying," Ovella Henderson, Block president, said.

All 22 districts were expected to receive the cameras by the end of next year, but the implementation finished earlier than expected. The final four districts, Calumet, Near West, Albany Park and Grand Central, are putting them on the streets this month.

Officers on patrol attach the cameras to their chests, and the cameras must be turned on and off manually. The cameras are capable of recording 72 hours of high definition video on one charge.

The video is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The public can request the footage if police use force, in the case of an arrest, or for an allegation of police misconduct.

There was resistance on the force to having interactions with the public recorded – something the mayor acknowledged. But he said the cameras protect the police as much as they protect the public and used the incident in which Congressman Bobby Rush was pulled over, then filed a complaint alleging racial profiling as an example of the camera backing up the officer’s account.

"That officer happened to have a body camera, congressman rush had a different remembrance of that incident. The body camera showed what the officer said," the mayor said.

Alderman Walter Burnett said the cameras are helping restore positive police-and-community relations.

"Guys have to be more sensitive, as you can see now, they even have to be able to articulate themselves on television now, on camera, right? So they have to be aware of what they say, how they say it and how they move, so I think we’re creating a more conscious police department," he said.

The commander said officers are instructed to tell the public they’re being recorded  and if there’s an officer who doesn’t follow protocol there could be consequences.