An Illinois House Committee approved amendments to the hotly-contested Eavesdropping Act Wednesday that would decriminalize the recording of police officers when they're enforcing laws in a public space, seen by many as a nod to the upcoming NATO/G8 summits where masses of protesters are expected to clash with Chicago police.
Under the current law, any individual who video or audio records a law enforcement officer, even in a public space, can be arrested and charged with a class 1 felony, a lesson Tiawanda Moore learned after officers she'd accused of sexual harassment and taped threatened her with felony charges and jail time.
House Bill 3944, sponsored by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, is headed to the floor after a committee approved its amendments 9-2, according to CBS Chicago. The new version eliminates the language forbidding citizens from "recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear."
The statewide policy has come under fire, particularly as the international summits approach. Lucy Dalglish, executive director for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Associated Press the current law's "bone-headedness" could embarrass the city when the policy becomes a national issue.
"You might be OK if you are CNN, but not if you're a blogger or look like any citizen on the street," she told the AP.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has been an unlikely source of support for the amendments, and argues that they can protect police by providing evidence of officers doing their jobs correctly in the case of police brutality accusations or other conflicts between law enforcement and civilians.
Yet many police officers disagree with McCarthy, especially as the NATO/G8 protests approach. Patrick Coughlin, deputy chief of the narcotics bureau in the Cook County state’s attorney's office, told the Forest View Suburban Life that the language on the chopping block protects the individual rights of police officers, and objected to statements from Rep. Nekritz and other supporters who say freeing citizens to police law enforcement will level the playing field.
"Because of the Illinois eavesdropping statute, officers cannot record that conversation without a court order," Coughlin told the Suburban Life. "This is not leveling the playing field. This is giving more rights to private citizens to collect evidence of a crime than officers have."