Chicago Cops Test Big Brother Microphones

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the city’s police force is now using all manner of technological means to spy on ordinary citizens without a warrant.

New city police cars will have cameras (March 25)

Six years ago, the Chicago Police Department installed cameras in 10 squad cars to restore public confidence after a pair of police shootings killed two unarmed civilians: Robert Russ and LaTanya Haggerty. It was supposed to be the wave of the future for the entire police fleet. Instead, it turned out to be a 10-camera pilot program that went no further. On Thursday, Fleet Management Commissioner Michael Picardi disclosed plans to install cameras on 125 new squad cars scheduled for delivery over the next two months: front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Impalas that will replace the old rear-wheel-drive Ford Crown Victorias. “It makes it safer for the officer. Now, you’re filming everything that’s going on during a traffic stop, during an arrest,” Picardi said.

Picardi said he’s even experimenting with a Big Brother bonus for unmarked police cars: a tiny microphone positioned near the windshield so powerful it can pick up conversations on the street. “You could pull into a street corner and, if there’s a drug deal going on a half-block away, you can hear what’s going on. You could have all the windows shut and the air-conditioning on and you could hear everything going on outside the vehicle,” Picardi said.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he would be concerned if the police recorded those conversations without a warrant. “It would raise serious questions under the Fourth Amendment and the Illinois eavesdropping law,” Yohnka said.

Illinois State Police have 1,200 vehicles equipped with cameras. “It’s all pluses, no minuses,” State Police spokesman Lincoln Hampton said. The Cook County sheriff’s office has video cameras in 144 of its 255 marked squad cars. Fourteen unmarked squad cars used in traffic enforcement also have cameras. Officers wear microphones and inform drivers they are being recorded.

Technically, this is all permissible under the 4th Amendment, pursuant to a whole string of Supreme Court rulings. One’s expectation of privacy outside one’s home is minimal, at best. Still, is this the type of society we want to live in?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. NJvoter says:

    Technically, I believe that some salesman from whatever outfit is selling these microphones is overstating their ability a bit.

  2. Just Me says:

    Well when it comes to the video cameras, I actually like those, since they can provide help/information when officers are harmed, and can provide some sense of what happened during an arrest.

    I don’t think I am too keen on the microphones.