Chicago says the police won’t arrest you for videotaping them during the NATO summit — but will they anyway?

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago’s corporation counsel said Friday that police “do not intend to enforce” the state’s controversial eavesdropping law during next month’s NATO summit, the city’s first public acknowledgment of the logistical difficulty and potential legal pitfalls of trying to bar people from recording police officers.

The decision is the latest blow to the statute, one of the strictest such laws in the country, and comes just weeks before thousands of demonstrators armed with smartphones and video cameras are expected to descend on the city during the May 20-21 summit.

Some people who plan to protest had said they were worried police might use the law to arrest protesters who otherwise weren’t breaking any laws. They also were concerned that many protesters, especially those from other states, wouldn’t be aware of the law.

The law, which carries sentences of up to 15 years in prison if a police officer is recorded without his or her consent, has been under fire in courts and the state Legislature in recent months. Uncertainty about the law’s future and the difficulty of enforcing it during summit protests contributed to the city’s decision, said Steve Patton, the city’s corporation counsel.

“I think it is a recognition that while the law is still on the books, it is currently being constitutionally challenged, coupled with the fact that the police are going to have other things to focus on during the summit,” Patton said.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has previously said he doesn’t object to allowing people to record police working in public.

When asked Friday if officers have been or will be told not to enforce the eavesdropping law, police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton issued a statement saying the department “feels its focus is better spent on ensuring a safe and secure NATO summit for residents, attendees and those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Officials at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office had discussed the issue with the city but were not aware of the decision until they were notified by the Tribune on Friday, spokeswoman Sally Daly said. Despite the city’s decision, prosecutors will handle any potential eavesdropping arrests during the summit on a case-by-case basis, she said…

But Jon Ziegler, who videotapes events for Occupy Chicago and other social movements and streams them on the Internet, said he’s skeptical that the city’s decision will prevent officers from confronting protesters who record them during the summit.

“It doesn’t really change my strategy, said Ziegler, 32, who lives on the North Side. “I still feel that if any officer doesn’t want you to film them and they want to arrest you because of it, they’ll do it anyway and come up with the charge after the fact.”

 

So let me break this down for you:

1.  The corporation counsel does not prosecute Chicago felonies; the Cook County State’s Attorney does.

2.  The Cook County State’s attorney has not been officially notified of the Chicago Corporation Counsel’s position on this, nor would it be binding on them if they were.

3.  By the way, from what I am hearing, they will be bringing in state police and police from outside Chicago to deal with protesters.  The Chicago Corporation Counsel has no power over any of them.

4.  When asked whether Chicago police officers have been told that they are not to enforce the eavesdropping statute, the police spokesperson gave a weaselly non-answer instead of a simple yes or no.  I take that as a “no.”

5.  Speaking of weaselly statements, the Chicago Corporation Counsel merely stated that Chicago does “not intend” to enforce the law.  What the heck does that mean?  That they reserve the right to change their mind on a case by case basis?  So if an officer doesn’t like the looks of a protester, he or she will be free to arrest him based on his own whim?

6.  Nothing here prevents a Chicago officer from using his or her own “discretion” to arrest anyone for a violation of the eavesdropping statute.

7.  If so, nothing said here prevents the Cook County State’s Attorney from prosecuting someone and seeking 15 years in prison for video-recording police during these protests.

There has been way too much hype and freaking out over the expected protests.  I have been told not to expect any trials or hearings throughout Cook County the week of the protests, because police and state troopers, not just in Chicago, but all over Cook County, plan to be on full alert to combat unruly protesters.

This is a recipe for disaster.  And I bet many of these cops do not want to be video-recorded in case they feel the need to bust some heads.

This sorry state of affairs is brought to you by our cowardly legislators, who voted against the proposed amendment to the eavesdropping statute which would have allowed citizens to record police in public during the course of their duties.  Of course, this vote occurred a couple of days after the primary election.

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