Documents Show Chicago Cops Routinely Disabling Recording Equipment

from the deliberate-operator-'error' dept

When the dashcam footage of the shooting of Laquan McDonald was finally released by the city of Chicago, it was notably missing the audio. In fact, no surviving footage of the shooting contains any audio. It’s 2016 and the Chicago PD is still producing silent films.

There’s a reason for this. Turns out cops aren’t fans of recordings. DNAInfo Chicago requested information on the police department’s camera problems after the eerily soundless shooting video was released. The documents obtained showed the PD may have plenty of cameras, but they’re rarely generating complete recordings… or in some cases, any recordings at all.

On the night Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago Police officer, at least three dashboard video cameras in squad cars at the scene didn’t work. And the ones that did capture video did not record audio.

This complete failure was no statistical quirk.

In fact, 80 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s 850 dashcam video systems don’t record audio due to “to operator error or in some cases intentional destruction” by officers, according to a review by the Police Department.

Additionally, about 12 percent of dashcams experience “video issues” on any given day due to “equipment or operator error,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

Cameras are only a part of the accountability equation. Putting them into use is a step forward, but if there’s no accountability built into the process itself, this is the result. A mechanically inoperative camera is rarely going to be considered a problem by either the cops in control of it or the management overseeing them. And if officers feel more “comfortable” with less documentation of their activities, it doesn’t take much to render the cameras useless.

The documentation obtained by DNAInfo makes it clear missing footage or recordings are anything but accidental. The following cannot be explained away by coincidence.

Additionally, only three of 22 Chicago Police-involved shooting investigations forwarded to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from the Independent Police Review Authority this year included dashcam video evidence. And none of those videos included audio recordings, state’s attorney spokeswoman Sally Daly said.

Neither can it explain the “errors” that led to the dearth of Laquan McDonald shooting footage.

The dashcam in police vehicle No. 8489, shared by officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph McElligott the night of Laquan’s shooting, recorded 37 “event videos” in October 2014, and had an operational dashcam the night of the shooting. But “due to disk error” no video was recorded at the shooting scene, according to police reports.


Police vehicle No. 8756 had a working dashcam that recorded 124 “event videos” in October 2014 without a single request for maintenance that month.

But on the night of Laquan’s shooting, the vehicle assigned to Arturo Bacerra and Leticia Valez reportedly had a “power issue” and the dashcam was “not engaged.”

In both cases, equipment was inspected later and found to have no mechanical problems. And yet, mysterious malfunctions somehow presented themselves during this controversial incident — an incident in which the surviving footage contradicted officers’ reports.

So, even purely as an internal investigative tool, the “recordings” are mostly useless. Officers clearly don’t want their superiors to see what they’ve been up to, much less the general public. DNAInfo’s report of the epidemic of unusable/missing recordings was unsurprisingly greeted by the local police union as an unwarranted attack on the reputation of Chicago’s finest.

The union president called the report and CPD’s statement that the department will not tolerate officers maliciously damaging equipment “just more kicks to the morale and kicks to the people that are out there working every day.”

“If there are individuals that are involved in purposefully damaging equipment, they will be cited for it,” he said. “But, to cite someone because of a repair tag not being the most recent request for repair, I think that’s arbitrary and I think that’s part of the problem.”

The union president points to “thousands” of repair tickets and months-long waits for service as the real problem here. But his attempt to portray this as a hardware problem doesn’t hold up when actual accountability measures are put in place.

“Supt. Escalante sent a very clear message and has held people accountable. And since we took that corrective action, we have seen a more than 70-percent increase in the amount of uploads at the end of each tour … and that is being audited weekly with reports sent to the superintendent.”

If it was mostly a problem with non-functioning equipment and long waits for repairs, the amount of uploaded footage should have remained nearly unchanged, rather than increasing 70 percent.

And the union president’s statement would be more believable if similar tampering hadn’t occurred at other police departments. This indicates that covering up wrongdoing is the prevailing mindset, rather than just the actions of a few rogue officers determined to thwart accountability at every turn.

Cameras can’t fix officer accountability if no one’s willing to hold them accountable for missing or incomplete recordings. The problem never seems to get fixed until it’s been made public. When agencies are only interested in reacting to issues rather than trying to head them off, they play right into the hands of officers who prefer to perform public duties completely unobserved.

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Comments on “Documents Show Chicago Cops Routinely Disabling Recording Equipment”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not as spoliation, as in the DA has to assume what the target or bystanders say happened is factual and absent them the DA must assume the worst possible actions on the part of the officer.

If you drive and hit someone from behind it is assumed that you are at fault, same sort of idea. Assume that any complaint is true as the officer has nothing to back his side of the story. Cameras are neutral observers and lacking those rather than providing the benefit of the doubt to the officer provide it to the citizen. Courts like to believe that officers would never lie, despite the evidence to the contrary (and the recent leaked contracts showing clauses getting rid of evidence that would support those claims).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The problem lies in the faith placed in officers and their actions. They assume cops are perfect machines who never lie to protect their own asses, and are given huge amounts of leeway.

Take the cop who jumped up on the hood of a car and executed 2 people when the original hail of bullets didn’t kill them… no charges. They did nothing wrong but run from a massive overreaction from cops who were unable to tell a gunshot from a backfire, who were bent on getting those they thought shot at them. They caused havoc, destruction of property and murdered 2 innocent people.

In Chicago we have cops who actively destroyed evidence of one of their brothers murdering someone who presented no real threat. They ran a black site denying people their rights, using torture to get confessions. Now they are actively destroying systems that might hold them accountable for wrongdoing. Even when there is video the system colludes to protect them.

When we can break past that barrier then there is a chance of the presumption being innocent until proven guilty, but when they scale is unfairly weighted to one side often to bring the balance back you have to make changes.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Choices in the pointing the finger game, matter

I am surprised the documentation documenting the equipment SNAFU wasn’t disabled or missing. They always have the excuse that it is: A) An ongoing investigation, B) A procedure that might give aid and comfort to the criminals, C) Classified as a potential threat to national security or, D) All of the above and I have to go potty, talk to ya later.

Or, they could just get a new PR guy, one who is better able to spin the unspinnable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Murder investigation ups the ante

Since this is now a murder investigation, everyone who should have had a recording of it should be charged with destruction of evidence. Anyone who falsified records should be charged with interfering in an investigation and should be black balled from ever working for any state or federal position again. There is a clear double standard when it comes to investigations when a police office is killed versus when they do the killing. Anyone who dared to use a cell phone to record this incident would have found themselves not only in jail, but their cameras would have been confiscated and erased if not destroyed outright.

Keroberos (profile) says:

These dash-cams must be horribly designed.

Almost every piece of electronics I’ve seen has had some form of anti-tamper system used in its manufacture, specifically designed to stop people from mucking about with its intended functionality. do the manufacturers of these devices employ none of these in their designs? That would be a huge design flaw in a product that is supposed to protect both the people that the police come into contact with and the police themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

In fact, 80 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s 850 dashcam video systems don’t record audio due to “to operator error or in some cases intentional destruction” by officers, according to a review by the Police Department.

…we have seen a more than 70-percent increase in the amount of [video] uploads at the end of each tour…

So they’ve got from having only 20% of the dashcam videos turned in to having … 34% turned in. Yay, team.

this is my fainting couch says:

cops lie?

i do not understand why anyone but the judicuary take cops seriously anymore the are almost all proven lyers, theives and murderers. that they should commit so trivial a crime as covering up there daily activities is so below these got away with worse than the st valintines day massacer people/

Happy valintines day everyone.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Why not?

A working camera and/or mic might record some inconvenient video and/or audio that shows a cop is lying, and that might have real consequences. A ‘malfunctioning’ camera and/or mic however isn’t going to record anything, and given no judge has the spine to accuse the cops in that city of both lying and deliberately sabotaging the equipment, they can keep helping ‘malfunctions’ happen as much as they want with no penalty.

They have all the incentive in the world to ensure that no usable recordings are around when they act improperly, and no penalty at all for tampering with the equipment, why would they not do so given that?

Anonymous Coward says:

And to think, cops are the only ones who should have guns

This shows why cops are not the only one who should have guns. Kind of goes against the whole anti-gunner propaganda. They spend all this time painting cops as bad guys and then say they should be the only ones with guns. Oh, and isn’t Chicago a blue city? Seems there should be no crime there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Suppose the police were investigating a crime, and they found the surveillance video at the crime scene was functioning perfectly fine up to when the crime occurred. After that, the video is nothing but static. What would the police think?

If it’s them investigating a crime, missing video would be evidence of tampering, but if it’s missing dashcam video, it’s “just more kicks to the morale and kicks to the people that are out there working every day.”

Rick says:

Sounds Like Just Another Day in Chicago

Add this to the 86 minutes of video that came up missing after cops “reviewed” (read: erased) that night at the Burger King close to the scene and you get a pretty clear look at what seems like standard operating procedure for Chicago cops. Erase and tamper.

Eldakka (profile) says:

If a police incident occurs where the vehicles involved were equipped with dashcams and/or the officers involved were equipped with bodycams and no footage is available, either audio or video, then any witness statements made by the officers involved should be inadmissible and all evidence produced by the defendant/plaintiff should be accepted into evidence as uncontested fact.

That will increase the ‘reliability’ of dash/body cams.

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