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Chicago PD Uses Copyright To Refuse Release Of Its 35-Year-Old Deadly Force Training Film

When copyright is deployed as a censor, it usually means the removal of content. In the case of Freddy Martinez of Lucy Parsons Lab (instrumental in peeling back the opacity covering the Chicago PD’s “black budget“), copyright is the excuse being given to prevent the release of information.

Martinez was hoping to obtain a copy of an instructional film the Chicago PD shows to incoming officers. This video — made more than 30 years ago — was highlighted in the DOJ’s damning civil rights report. The DOJ noted that the video was outdated and the instructors presenting the film did absolutely nothing to ensure engagement or, you know, provide actual instruction.

From the report:

As just one example, a class we observed on deadly force involved officers’ viewing a video made roughly 35 years ago, prior to key Supreme Court decisions that altered the standards used to evaluate the reasonableness of use of force. The tactics depicted in the video were clearly out of date with commonly accepted police standards of today. Following the video, the instructor spoke for approximately thirty minutes, but did not give detailed information on justified versus unjustified use of deadly force or the standard of objective reasonableness — all essential topics for deadly force training. The training itself was inconsistent with CPD’s force policies, further undermining its utility in teaching recruits their obligations under Department policy and constitutional law.

That’s not all the DOJ noticed. It also noticed no one in classroom seemed to care whether anyone got anything out of it.

Several recruits were not paying attention, one appeared to be sleeping, and there was minimal attempt made to engage the students in the lesson. In fact, the instructor arrived to the class ten minutes late and dismissed students twenty minutes early from this critical class on how CPD officers should use deadly force. The impact of this poor training was apparent. At the academy and during ride-alongs, our retained training law enforcement expert asked several PPOs to articulate when use of force would be justified in the field; only one PPO out of six came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.

Naturally, a video on deadly force that puts new cops to sleep is something the public might be interested in seeing for themselves — especially considering its contents are no longer aligned with Supreme Court decisions. Martinez filed a public records request for the video through MuckRock. The Chicago PD responded [PDF] by claiming copyright prevented the video’s release.

Under 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a) of the FOIA statute, a public body is allowed to withhold “[i]nformation specifically prohibited from disclosure by Federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law.” The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101,et seq., grants only the holder of a copyright an exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of his work. [See 17 U.S.C. § 106]. Therefore, since the Department is not the owner of the copyright, CPD cannot reproduce said video.

As Martinez points out in his post for Lucy Parsons Lab, this would appear to be a pretty clear case of fair use. Worth litigating over? Possibly. Martinez initiated a public records lawsuit, but dropped it because the internet always provides.

The video, which was made in 1982, was available for purchase elsewhere on the Internet, however, and after some conversation in our Slack Channel, someone was able to locate the video on the Internet Archive, too. We had begun discussions about suing for the video under Illinois FOIA law because we believe it falls under the “Fair Use” exemption of the Copyright Act but because it is readily available for download, we dropped this prospect.

While the video remains live, plenty of people will have the opportunity to view a video plenty of Chicago cops slept through. Peter Falk narrates it, so it’s not completely terrible. And viewing it from the comfort of your own computer is preferable to the option the PD extended to Martinez in lieu of sending him a copy:

You may contact the FOIA Division of the CPD to discuss a viewing of the requested video.

Granted, the CPD’s copyright excuse is better than others we’ve seen offered by government agencies hoping to keep information out of the public’s hands. The video was produced by a completely separate company and rights are apparently held by the Phoenix Learning Group. It’s at that website that you’ll discover this “training” film isn’t actually a training film, but rather trimmed from a one-hour documentary that was produced to give TV viewers a little insight into police decision making, not provide cops with information they need to make solid use-of-force decisions. That explains the presence of Peter Falk. This also explains why CPD officers seem to know very little about deadly force and how to deploy it.

That’s absolutely the point of public records requests like these: to let the public know why services they pay for — like the city’s policing — are such a mess. This is just a small part of it, and it was nearly thwarted by copyright.

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Author: Tim Cushing

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