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.
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.