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Chicago Police Records Shed Light On The Causes Of Dashcam Malfunctions

By Mae Rice in News on Jan 28, 2016 4:17PM

A still from the Laquan McDonald dashcam video, which had minimal audio due to mic issues

Have Chicago police been tampering with the dashcams and microphones in their squad cars?

Answering that question conclusively requires knowing officers' intent, (which we don't), but newly-released police maintenance records do shed some light on department's technical difficulties. They document widespread mechanical issues, and slightly less widespread misuse of machinery by police officers, according to the Sun-Times.

From September 2014 to July 2015, an 11-month period, squad vehicles were missing mics 86 of the 1,700 times they were sent to the shop for maintenance, the Sun-Times reports. Another 29 times, their microphones weren’t synced to their camera systems correctly.

That amounts to technology issues in less than 10 percent of maintenance cases, most of them caused by hardware issues or over-stuffed hard drives. However, there were “dozens” of cases where tampering wasn’t out of the question, the Sun-Times notes. (In at least two cases, maintenance logs mentioned a chance that mics were “intentionally defeated.”)

Interest in these records has grown since officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. The incident—for which Van Dyke has been charged with six counts of murder—was caught on dashcam, but with only very faint audio, prompting questions about how officers are using their recording equipment.

The McDonald shooting wasn’t an isolated incident, either. There were 22 police-involved shootings reviewed by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office last year, the Sun-Times notes, and none of those cases had audio and only a few had dashcam footage, according to officials.

The Chicago Police Department is trying to ensure officers use their equipment properly by disciplining officers—more than 20 since the McDonald footage was released—for improper dashcam use.