SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers are working to erase a state prohibition on recording police in public that carries the same penalties as trafficking in drugs.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers are working to erase a state prohibition on recording police in public that carries the same penalties as trafficking in drugs.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, has introduced legislation that makes it legal to record audio of on-duty police in public places.

The 1994 eavesdropping law prohibiting the recording of on-duty police officers hasn’t changed to keep pace with advancements in technology, Nekritz said.

“Citizens are being charged under the current law for (doing nothing) more than what thousands of citizens do every day in Illinois, and what we all do, which is to pull out our cell phone, open up the camera and start recording,” Nekritz said Wednesday during an Illinois House Judiciary Committee hearing.

It’s legal to record video of on-duty police, but if audio is introduced the act becomes a Class 1 felony.

Only Massachusetts and Oregon have similar state statutes.

“Everybody using cell phones who are using the video function or a video camera for that is not aware of it, and we’re making felons, serious felons, out of ordinary citizens,” said Robert Loeb, a Chicago-based lawyer and member of the Illinois State Bar Association.

Ignorance is no excuse, said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Coughlin.

Coughlin and other opponents of the measure say it unfairly favors the rights of civilians over the rights of police officers. Officers navigate a maze of bureaucracy to record a person in public. This law would pave the way for anyone with a cell phone to record police officers doing their jobs, he said..

“This is going to be akin to the gonzo-type of news reporting … and they would be literally in your face,” said Dan Nelson, director of governmental affairs for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge, a police union.

Nelson said he is worried about a third-party recording a conversation between an officer and a witness, suspect or victim. That could have a chilling effect on the tips police rely on to solve crimes, Nelson said.

Coughlin raised other safety concerns regarding the officers.

“There’s going to be an increased danger in stops. You’re going to have situations where people are reaching into their pocket and pulling out a black object and pointing it at the officers,” he said.

Loeb said the law would protect the majority of police officers.

“We are protecting the multitude of good police officers who are doing their jobs … As to the few bad cops, we are either deterring them from any bad actions because they would know they could be taped, or we’re exposing them,” Loeb said.

Coughlin and Nelson called for changing the entire eavesdropping statue so only one person in a conversation must approve of recording it. Now, both parties involved in a conversation must agree to an audio recording.

Making Illinois a one-party consent state would create legal equality between police and civilians, Coughlin and Nelson said.

At least two cases involving the current eavesdropping law could make Nekritz’s measure moot by overturning the statute. One case is sitting in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the other is in the Illinois Supreme Court. The earliest decision on either case would be later in February.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office is pushing ahead with prosecuting people under the law as it is currently written, despite a request from lawmakers to pause the cases until rulings on either one of the pending legal cases come down from the courts.

Nekritz’s measure passed out of the committee, 9-2, Wednesday and moves to the House.

Several committee members gave their support to Nekrtiz’s legislation with the caveat that it needs work, especially on narrowly defining which areas are public and which are private.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *