Chicago Police officers have allegedly schemed to intentionally sabotage cruiser dashcams, adding fuel to the controversy surrounding police accountability.
The pattern has been exposed by a DNAinfo investigation prompted by the city’s release of a dashcam video showing an officer shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The footage was withheld for more than a year and finally went public late last year, under court order but lacking audio to provide additional context.
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi initially dismissed the significance of the missing audio, claiming it was likely a simple technical fault.
“As with any technology, at times software issues or operator error may keep the cameras from operating as they normally should,” he said.
The department later admitted that “intentional destruction” may have played a role in some cases. The latest investigation, based on nearly 2,000 maintenance records, suggests sabotage may not be an anomaly.
Exemplifying the trend, only two of five vehicles present at McDonald’s shooting captured any video footage and four vehicles did not record audio. For the vehicle occupied by the first responding officers, including shooter Jason Van Dyke, a wiring issue had been fixed in June 2014, three months after the malfunction was first logged. Just one day later the system was broken again, due to “intentional damage,” according to the maintenance records.
The issues appear to have gone unnoticed or ignored by Police Department leadership until questions were raised in the wake of McDonald’s death. Guglielmi now claims the department “will not tolerate officers maliciously destructing equipment.” Union officials, meanwhile, claim the city is to blame for failing to maintain the equipment.
Some police departments have implemented a zero-tolerance policy for intentional destruction or misuse of recording devices.