Report: Dashcam equipment in Chicago police vehicles ‘intentionally’ destroyed

Report: Dashcam equipment in Chicago police vehicles ‘intentionally’ destroyed

80% of Chicago dashcam audio systems are malfunctioning due "to operator error or in some cases intentional destruction."

DNAinfo Chicago has reported, after a review of over 1,800 police maintenance records, evidence that some Chicago police officers may have deliberately disabled dashcam equipment in their own vehicles:

“Chicago Police Department officers stashed microphones in their squad car glove boxes. They pulled out batteries. Microphone antennas got busted or went missing. And sometimes, dashcam systems didn’t have any microphones at all…

“Police officials last month blamed the absence of audio in 80 percent of dashcam videos on officer error and ‘intentional destruction.’”

The Chicago Police Department has issued about 850 dashcam video systems in police vehicles throughout the city. But a police department review showed 80 percent aren’t recording audio, according to DNAinfo. The widespread failure of audio recording became apparent in the aftermath of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

The DNAinfo report continues:

“Between Sept. 1, 2014, and July 16, 2015, maintenance technicians assigned to troubleshoot and repair dashcam systems reported 90 incidents where no microphones were found in squad cars, according to police logs.

“Another 13 inspections during that period turned up only one microphone in squad cars that were supposed to be equipped with two audio recording devices, according to the logs.

“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.”

Dashcams, like body cameras, are invaluable tools for accountability. Having an objective video recording of police activity and incidents helps ensure accountability, protecting both the public from abuses and police from false accusations. They can’t prevent every problem – much depends on what angles are captured and, ultimately, on the willingness of police supervisors to take disciplinary action and prosecutors to bring criminal charges, if warranted.

But if police are engaging in the “intentional destruction” of camera equipment, this is a very serious problem for police accountability and legitimacy. Police misconduct inflicts grievous harm on victims and on the community at large. It also costs Chicagoans millions: Chicago taxpayers have paid over $520 million in litigation surrounding police brutality over the last decade.

Cameras have been shown to significantly reduce complaints of excessive force and provide critical evidence in lawsuits about alleged police brutality. In San Diego, public complaints dropped by more than 40 percent after the city’s police department adopted body cameras. And a study conducted in Rialto, Calif., revealed a 60 percent reduction in the use of force and an 88 percent reduction in complaints against the police in a single year after officers started wearing body cameras.

But none of the investment in camera technology is worth anything if safeguards aren’t in place to make sure police actually use them.

Not all police officers are dishonest. But the city must take severe and immediate disciplinary action against any officers deliberately tampering with video and audio equipment. The public rightly expects basic honesty from those entrusted with protecting public safety. And in a time of intense public scrutiny of police conduct, more transparency and accountability can only help restore faith in local law enforcement.

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