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 [video] 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.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 3:42pm

    So the easy solution is to consider a failure to have dashcam footage an admission the officer was at fault in the incident.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Atkray (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:11pm

      Re:

      And make it clear that the neither the government or the union will support you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:40pm

      Re:

      Sadly, as it happens during the crime instead of after, I doubt a judge would buy a claim for spoilation of evidence. If nothing else, the defendant would have to show bad faith on the part of the police, and ... it is so very easy to feign incompetence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 8:25pm

        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).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 2:00am

        Re: Re:

        No. Make it a reuqirment in all police union contracts that, if you are equipped with a body cam, it is on at all times, except in the restrooms.

        Not having it on means you are liable for any damages and offenses that it is claimed.

        After all, if the Chicago PD have nothing to hide...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      I'm not sure we want to encourage them to think that sometimes "presumed guilty until proven innocent" can be OK. There's already enough of that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:50am

        Re: Re:

        They do it to citizens every day, sometimes you just need to remind them they are not special. That the laws apply to both sides (even if we never punish them_

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 11:23am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Exactly, and if we want the laws to apply equally to everyone, then it should be innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 7:09pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 8:58pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:


              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.


              Certainly. I just don't think one of those changes should be instituting a presumption of guilt.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 3:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Keroberos (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:18pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      That One Other Not So Random Guy, 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:41pm

      Re: These dash-cams must be horribly designed.

      "some form of anti-tamper system"
      They were the ones whose contracts went right into the garbage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:42pm

    Everyone KNOWS the Chicago PD are corrupt, no-good criminals with badges. Just like everyone KNEW the Chicago mob were corrupt, no-good criminals. The problem is getting enough proof and people willing to go after the BIG criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 4:46pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 5:31pm

    The American Civil Liberties Union says the city of Chicago has a "frightening number" of surveillance cameras. Hundreds have been added under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

    Ummm...do the cops tamper with these as well?

    Police State?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 5:40pm

    Sabotage of equipment

    Where I work, we can be fired for cause for sabotaging equipment.

    And it's a union shop, btw.

    Just sayin'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 5:59pm

    either these dirty cops need to be jailed or people will start shooting them. As the citizenry will take drastic measures to protect themselves if the system refuses to police their own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 8 Feb 2016 @ 7:01pm

    Twilightzone

    Obviously the Chicago PD has a gravity well surrounding them...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 7:14pm

    Human surveillance

    Well, as I understand it, cops are only human...and humans hate surveillance. Who knew?

    We should test the humans at the NSA, to see if this effect can be reproduced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 8:29pm

      Re: Human surveillance

      You know how it is that near Boston. All those Synths running around gathering stuff for The Institute...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2016 @ 8:12pm

    If anyone else were caught damaging company/government property, they would be immediately fired. What ever happened to that "personal responsibility" I kept hearing about?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 8:42pm

      Re:

      Doesn't apply if you have a badge, a high enough rank, or the right 'friends'. If you have any of those three you're never responsible for anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    this is my fainting couch, 8 Feb 2016 @ 8:43pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Feb 2016 @ 9:13pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    klaus (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 4:00am

    Chicago

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 4:21am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:21am

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

      Oh, and isn't Chicago a blue city? Seems there should be no crime there.

      Whaaaaaaaaaat??

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        JBDragon, 9 Feb 2016 @ 1:50pm

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

        As in it's a big Democrat city!!! Democrats Blue, Republicans Red!!! With some of the toughest gun laws in the country, yet Corruption is rampant, about the highest murder rates in the country!!! Sounds like a fun place I'll never visit.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 5:39am

    Mechanically Inoperative equipment

    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.
    I wonder. Would they consider it not to be a problem if their gun was mechanically inoperative? Or their vehicle?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 7:56am

    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    z! (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 8:35am

    A non-functional camera should be considered on-par with non-functional siren, lights, or radio and follow the same procedures as when one of them stops working. I can't imagine an officer continuing to patrol if any of them stop working, and it's highly likely that current procedures say "bring the car in, NOW".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rick, 9 Feb 2016 @ 2:00pm

    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.

    http://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Video-From-Burger-King-Near-Laquan-McDonald-Shooting -Released-360633421.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 3:25pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 6:36pm

    All the more reason...

    The only good cop is a dead cop. I'm sure there are some murderers out there that are just really good people. Does this mean we should legalize murder?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.