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Are Police Turning Off Dashcam Audio On Purpose? Alvarez Questions CPD

By  Erica Demarest and Ted Cox | December 7, 2015 1:32pm | Updated on December 7, 2015 2:48pm

 Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez speaks at a press conference on December 7, 2015.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez speaks at a press conference on December 7, 2015.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

CHICAGO — Another video of a police officer fatally shooting a man was released Monday, and once again, the video did not have audio. 

At a news conference for the release of police dashcam footage in the officer-involved shooting of Ronald Johnson, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the lack of audio is an issue the Chicago Police Department must address. 

RELATED: Ronald Johnson Police Shooting Video Released, Officer Not Charged

The State's Attorney's office presented the footage to a room of reporters Monday overlaid with audio from police scanners during the interaction, but Alvarez emphasized that the dashcam footage itself had no audio.

 Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, left, and assistant state's attorney Lynn McCarthy at a press conference Monday discussing the video of the shooting of Ronald Johnson.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, left, and assistant state's attorney Lynn McCarthy at a press conference Monday discussing the video of the shooting of Ronald Johnson.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

She called the inability of police cameras to capture audio "frustrating" and called it a problem the Chicago Police Department needs to solve.

"That's a problem for the Chicago Police Department, and I think they need to answer to that," Alvarez said. "I don't know why there's no audio. There should be audio. There's supposed to be audio."

At a news conference introducing Sharon Fairley as the new head of the Independent Police Review Authority on Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel granted, "It's clear that we're going to have to have a policy as it relates to accountability, as it relates to enforcement, to make sure the sound is also working." He said he expected his newly appointed Task Force on Police Accountability to formulate that policy.

Asked if officers were turning off the dashcam audio, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago cop, said, "I don't doubt it." Yet he quickly added that officers are called on to check that the video and audio are working at the start of their shifts.

"If they're not working, they're required to call in and get it repaired," Cochran said. "The question is, how efficient has the repair process been?"

Alvarez suggested several possible explanations for the missing audio in the Ronald Johnson and Laquan McDonald shooting footage, but said no excuse is acceptable.

"Whether it's malfunctioning, or officers are physically turning them off when they get in that squad car ... that's something I believe the Police Department has to address," Alvarez continued. "And they have to address it because we would prefer to have the audio."

In the Ronald Johnson shooting, Alvarez's office decided not to prosecute the police officer, citing both witness accounts and the dashcam footage that she said indicates Johnson was armed at the time shots were fired. 

Audio was also missing from the dashcam footage released last month of the fatal police-involved shooting of Laquan McDonald, which led to murder charges for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke and ultimately triggered the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Before his firing, McCarthy attempted to explain the missing audio to ABC-7, telling them there were "apparently technical difficulties," but said the video had not been tampered with.

A CPD official told the station it could have been a battery issue:

"Wednesday night, a Chicago police official said there was no audio because the batteries in the dashcams had been put in improperly and facing the wrong direction, which disables the audio part of the recorder. CPD says officers responsible for maintaining their dash-cams are being retrained to avoid this."

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