COOK COUNTY, IL – Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today that he has decided to proactively release videos documenting sustained cases of excessive force by correctional deputies against Cook County Jail individuals in custody.
“The public has a right to know when officers abuse the public trust as well as the ramifications of that abuse,” said Sheriff Dart. “Transparency is critical to ensuring law enforcement accountability.”
This marks the first time to the Sheriff’s Office’s knowledge that an American jail or prison has voluntarily made use of force video available to the public without requiring a court order or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In early 2016, Sheriff Dart directed his staff to begin posting Merit Board rulings on the Sheriff’s Office webpage to provide the public with transparency into the process of officer discipline. The Sheriff’s Merit Board is a statutorily created and independent, nine-person civilian body that makes the final judgment whenever the Sheriff’s Office recommends either termination or suspensions of 30 days or more for sworn officers. The facts of each case and Merit Board judgments from January 2015 to the present are publicly available here. (Warning – Graphic Images and Explicit Language)
The newly posted videos correspond to six individual cases, involving 13 disciplined correctional deputies. Of those deputies, the Sheriff’s Office sought termination against seven – at least one in each incident. These tended to be deputies directly responsible for the excessive force. For the other seven correctional deputies, the Sheriff’s Office sought substantial suspensions without pay, ranging from 45 to 180 days. Most of those deputies were recommended for such serious discipline due to misconduct such as failing to report a use of force, inaccurately describing a use of force in official documentation, being untruthful to Sheriff’s internal investigators or failing to sufficiently record incidents with handheld cameras.
The release of these videos marks the latest step in Sheriff Dart’s long-term campaign to restore accountability to Cook County Jail following many decades of overcrowding and violence. The Sheriff has invested over $10 million to install more than 2,400 fixed cameras throughout the 96 acre jail compound. With all hallways enveloped with cameras from every angle, nearly all movements from both individuals in custody and staff are recorded and documented at all times. The existence of all these cameras has exponentially increased the ability of the Sheriff’s Office to hold accountable both officers who use excessive force on individuals in custody as well as individuals in custody who attack officers. In addition to the fixed cameras, Sheriff Dart has invested in hundreds of officer body cameras and handheld cameras, with many more on the way. These portable cameras are required to be utilized by deputies during any potentially tense situation in the jail, particularly with anticipated uses of force.
Along with the installation of compound wide cameras, in 2014 Sheriff Dart launched and staffed with highly trained personnel, the Video Monitoring Unit, whose sole job is to monitor the massive amount of video captured by the cameras and identify potential misconduct or illicit individual in custody activity. The Sheriff also established the Use of Force Review Unit, which analyzes all available incident videos to determine whether force was appropriate (i.e. to stop individuals in custody from fighting with each other or attacking officers) or whether the line was crossed into a violation of Sheriff’s policies.
Sheriff Dart wishes to acknowledge the overwhelming majority of Cook County Jail deputies who work hard, follow the rules, tell the truth, make proper use of their extensive training and take seriously their commitment to treat individuals in custody with respect and humanity.