Hit & Run

Chicago Police Deliberately Sabotaging Recording Devices, According to Report

Something to keep an eye on as body camera programs are implemented.

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I guess we should be glad that one dashcam was still working.
Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke

Did you wonder why the Chicago Police dashcam video that showed the fatal (and brutal) shooting of Laquan McDonald didn't have any sound? Its microphone was not working, and as DNAinfo in Chicago has discovered, the police department seems to have a bit of a problem with officers' dashcams and microphones cutting out, sometimes due to what was classified by the department itself as "intentional damage":

Maintenance records of the squad car used by Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed Laquan McDonald, and his partner, Joseph Walsh, show months-long delays for two dashcam repairs, including a long wait to fix "intentional damage."

On June 17, 2014, police technicians reported fixing a dashcam wiring issue in police vehicle No. 6412, the squad shared by Van Dyke and Walsh, about three months after it was reported broken, records show.

A day later, the same vehicle's dashcam system was reported busted again. It took until Oct. 8, 2014, to complete repairs of what technicians deemed "intentional damage," according to reports.

Just 12 days later, on Oct. 20, 2014, dashcam video recorded from squad car No. 6412 on the night Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald did not record audio. The video that went viral showing Van Dyke killing Laquan was taken from a different squad car, but it, too, had no audio.

DNAInfo notes that four other police cars on the scene failed to record audio and only two of the five cars that had dashcams actually caught any video. On the night of the shooting one reported a "power issue" that kept the camera from being used, but technicians reported no actual problems upon inspection.

This, observers might guess, does not appear to be an anomaly:

On 30 occasions, technicians who downloaded dashcam videos found evidence that audio recording systems either had not been activated or were "intentionally defeated" by police personnel, the records show.

It wasn't until the absence of sound on the videos from Laquan's shooting that problems with dashcam systems came to light.

Police officials quickly placed the blame on officers and shift supervisors responsible for making sure dashcam systems work properly before officers go on patrol.

In December, interim Police Supt. John Escalante warned the rank and file that they would be disciplined for failing to follow proper dashcam protocol. Weeks later, he followed through by hitting some officers and supervisors with formal reprimands and up-to-three-day suspensions.

A police union rep complained, wanting to know how they could be so certain that police purposefully caused damage. Well, a police spokesman pointed out that since the crackdown on officers to make sure they were operating the systems properly, there was a 70 percent increase in the amount of video uploaded at the end of each shift.

This is a reminder of the importance of not allowing too much secrecy of a police body camera program. The horrific MacDonald shooting brought to light a problem that apparently has been going on for a while. But some police departments are approaching the use of body cameras with the intention of keeping video secret from the public. If that happens, how will the public know whether the police are not subverting the system yet again?