The Chicago Police Department and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are again under scrutiny as a history of “intentional destruction” of dashboard cameras and microphones by officers has surfaced in a DNAInfo review of police records.
The review was prompted by details of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, in which only one of five squad cars on the scene had a functional microphone, and two of five could record dash-cam footage.
The recent release of that dash-cam footage revealed officer Jason Van Dyke unloading 16 shots into McDonald, most of them after he already lay unmoving on the ground. Van Dyke claims he felt threatened by a knife McDonald was holding. The officer began firing six seconds after arriving on scene.
It took Chicago prosecutors a year to return an indictment for murder against the officer who shot McDonald, though the city immediately settled a wrongful death suit with the family for $5 million. The suspicion that the officer would have escaped indictment if a judge had not ordered the release of video footage has prompted widespread calls for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The dash-cam footage of the event helped to get indictment against the officer, as well as revealing untruths in the testimony of officers at the scene whose reports did not match the footage. The accused officer’s partner is on desk duty, awaiting the results of related criminal and disciplinary investigations.
The DNAInfo investigation revealed that technicians had reported “intentional damage” to Van Dyke’s dash cam and audio at least one time before the incident. The night of McDonald’s shooting, Van Dyke’s car recorded video but no audio. One squad car at the scene failed to record video of McDonald’s shooting, despite having made recordings earlier that very night.
A December report by the Police Department found that 80 percent of police car microphones are defective due to “operator error or in some cases intentional destruction.” Union officials have fired back, charging that the department is responsible for making sure officers have functioning technology and the training to use them.
A consistent failure of police dash cams and microphones might not undermine the department’s credibility. But since these tech issues are often linked to police themselves tampering, and actually inhibited the investigation of a shooting, they threaten to wide the gulf between the Chicago police and the people they are supposed to be serving.
There are probably plenty of people who want to trust the police but who find the department’s consistent ethical failures almost unbelievable. And there remains a market, apparently, for a tamper-proof dashboard camera.