A video of police shooting and Tasering 28-year-old Ismael Jamison has already garnered more than 24,000 views on IPRA's Vimeo page. Credit: IPRA

Chicago Independent Police Review Authority chief Sharon Fairley yesterday hailed a “new accountability structure” for the Chicago Police Department that aims to “cultivate trust from the community.”

What, you ask, does the city’s bright, burgeoning epoch of law-enforcement responsibility, administrative transparency, and public confidence look like? What are the revolutionary architectural features of this sweeping “accountability structure”?

Well, so far the foundational tools of Chicago’s new age of transparency are actually quite common: Vimeo and Soundcloud—the file-sharing applications of choice for indie filmmakers and DJs, respectively. Indeed, IPRA’s program, it now seems, hinges considerably on the agency making media publicly available with the help of the two platforms. 

Fairley’s statement yesterday came in regard to IPRA’s release of a disturbing collection of video and audio files related to officer-involved shootings and Taser use, as well as “incidents of death or great bodily harm . . . that occur in police custody.” The searchable archive of 101 cases, as many as half of which IPRA may still be investigating, is preceded by a “Viewer Discretion Advised” alert:

Some of the content available on this website depicts incidents that are graphic in nature and/or contains strong language, which some viewers may find disturbing. Video and audio material is only one source of evidence reviewed and analyzed in the context of other materials obtained in the course of an investigation. The inclusion of an incident on this website does not suggest a determination has been made regarding any police officer’s conduct. 

IPRA made the data dump in response to a Police Accountability Task Force recommendation that audio and video recordings, along with written documents such as police reports, be made publicly available no later than 60 days from the date of an incident. 

On IPRA’s Vimeo and Soundcloud pages, video and audio documents, respectively, are available to stream and download without entailing a dig through individual case files. (However the written documents contained in each case cache offer the information needed to contextualize the footage.) The agency’s Vimeo page is currently populated with 343 videos, which include footage from police dashcams, security cameras, and the cell phones of witnesses. It’s possible to search by post date (some were published as far back as a month ago), play count (a video of 28-year-old Ismael Jamison being shot and stunned by police has already garnered more than 24,000 views), and “likes” (an unfortunate designation given the subject matter of the clips).

One of IPRA’s most-watched videos (seen at the very top of this post) shows an off-duty Chicago police officer, working security last June at a Portillo’s restaurant in River North, repeatedly striking a customer, who had reportedly thrown a cup of cheese at the cop. The man was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of serious injuries, including eye trauma.

In the video above, captured on the camera of a cell phone in June 2014, a witness’s delight at documenting what initially appears to be a car chase turns to horror. “We got a cop chase!” the man holding the phone says to friends gathered at the window of a residence overlooking the corner of North and Hoyne in Wicker Park, where officers have stopped an SUV. When the driver of the vehicle attempts to flee the scene, at least one officer draws his gun and fires. “Oh, shit! Holy fuck!” one of the onlookers says. “They shot his ass!” The driver was seriously injured and was later found guilty on a number of charges, including multiple counts of felony aggravated assault with a vehicle to a peace officer.

Yet another video (above) shows a Chicago police officer processing a man arrested for allegedly possessing a small amount of marijuana. At around the 42:30 mark of the clip, the officer abruptly pushes the suspect against a door and attempts to wrestle him to the ground. 

IPRA’s Soundcloud page, meanwhile, includes 638 audio clips, mostly 911 calls and police scanner chatter related to incidents formerly or currently under review. By Friday evening, the account had more than 100 followers.

“As an agency we’ve devoted significant time and effort into developing this case portal and we are hopeful that implementing this new policy will take the city a step closer to building a police accountability system that cultivates trust from the community,” Fairley said in the aforementioned statement on IPRA’s site. “Our desire is that the reforms we initiate under the IPRA banner will be carried into the future as the city transitions to a new accountability structure.” 

If IPRA officials are being practical, they’ve no doubt invested in the “pro” versions of Vimeo and Soundcloud that offer unlimited data storage. Because if history’s any indication, the agency’s going to need the space to accommodate many more hours of footage related to cases of police use of force and misconduct.