Chicago police officers tampered with dashcams to destroy footage

© Jim Young
The Chicago Police Department is under scrutiny after investigators found that officers tampered with dashboard cameras. They determined that 80 percent of dashcam footage is missing audio due to officer error or “intentional destruction.”

Investigations began in November last year, following the release of video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s 2014 death at the hands of Chicago Police Department Officer Jason Van Dyke. Investigators found that only one of the five dashcams present during the incident could record audio, while only two could record video.

Further probes last month found that 80 percent of Chicago PD dashcams are unable to record audio, and 12 percent of them cannot even record video. Officers frequently tampered with dashcams by putting the microphones in their glove boxes or pulling out the batteries. Some even went as far as removing microphones altogether or destroying the antennae of their cam, according to DNAinfo.

"When you've got a standup cop who has nothing to hide, the dashcam is his friend," Gregg Stuchman, a video forensics specialist from California, told the Chicago Tribune. "But for cops who aren't quite as standup, it would make sense that they wouldn't want things recorded."

Though the dashcam footage helped get Van Dyke charged with six counts of first-degree murder, he was found to have tampered with the device at least twice in the month before the shooting. The failure of the dashcam to record audio during the shooting was the result of “intentional damage” and long delays in repairing it.

The officer has pleaded not guilty, but the city immediately settled the wrongful death suit with the McDonald family for $5 million. Van Dyke’s partner has been relegated to desk duty, pending the results of criminal and internal investigations.

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After the release of the McDonald video, Chicago PD officials reprimanded officers and supervisors for tampering with dashcam footage. Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante, appointed in December, issued suspensions of up to three days to officers who damaged their dashcams.

“To boil this down, the police department will not tolerate officers maliciously destructing equipment," Chicago PD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in December, according to New York Daily News.