CHICAGO — The president of the Chicago police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, doesn't buy that all of the blame for a failing dashcam program should fall on the city's officers, but said if officers did tamper with recording devices, they should be punished.
Dean Angelo, the union's president, said it was well known that the dashboard cameras and microphones have been faulty, damaged and are slow to be repaired. Some of the blame should fall on City Hall and the police department, Angelo said.
"Everything trickles downhill," he said. "If the department wants to address the system, then fix them all and get them all working and work with the guys."
His comments came in response to a DNAinfo Chicago report that detailed why so many police dashcam videos were silent, including details that officers stashed microphones in their glove boxes, pulled out batteries and intentionally tampered with the recording devices.
"I'd like to know how they make that determination, if it’s a human error or if in fact it's actually the device," Angelo said Wednesday.
Angelo questioned those repair records, which indicated that between Sept. 1, 2014, and July 16, 2015, technicians reported 90 incidents where no microphones were found in cars, and, on 30 occasions, video downloaded from dashcams without audio were found to have not been activated or were "intentionally defeated."
The review of more than 1,800 police maintenance logs on dashcams revealed that in many cases officers failed to synch their microphones, or had no microphones in the squad at all.
"How is it determined that this is something that someone purposefully engaged in damaging a piece of equipment?" Angelo said.
Angelo asked a similar question last month following a DNAinfo report that 80 percent of the city's dashcams don't properly record audio and about 12 percent of the in-car camera systems have video problems.
The union president called the report and CPD's statement that the department will not tolerate officers maliciously damaging equipment "just more kicks to the morale and kicks to the people that are out there working every day."
"If there are individuals that are involved in purposefully damaging equipment, they will be cited for it," he said. "But, to cite someone because of a repair tag not being the most recent request for repair, I think that’s arbitrary and I think that’s part of the problem.”
Angelo pointed to the more than 1,000 hardware failures reported in the maintenance logs as well as months-long repair times as proof that the entire system is flawed.
"No one is sanctioning damaging department equipment here, we don’t encourage that, we expect officers to work within the guidelines of the agency that they work for, but we also believe there is a new dedicated move on behalf of the department to reach back and discipline people for things now that were not discipline cases earlier," he said.
The Chicago Police Department was put on notice to get those cameras up and running by interim Police Supt. John Escalante in December after reports of widespread issues with audio and video following the scrutiny surrounding the Laquan McDonald shooting. None of the five squad cars at the McDonald scene captured audio and just two of the five had working video.
“To boil this down, the Police Department will not tolerate officers maliciously destructing [sic] equipment,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
“Supt. Escalante sent a very clear message and has held people accountable. And since we took that corrective action, we have seen a more than 70-percent increase in the amount of [video] uploads at the end of each tour … and that is being audited weekly with reports sent to the superintendent.”
Escalante followed through with that message and cited 22 officers over a one-month period this winter over noncompliance.
The latest heat on the police department comes at a time when officers are making drastically fewer investigative stops and confiscating fewer guns. This comes as murders and shootings spike.
Police have begun making fewer investigative stops as the department is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, and sources told DNAinfo that officers are doing the "bare minimum" in reaction to the current working environment.
As of this week, shootings had doubled compared to the same time last year. Forty-two people have been killed and 210 wounded so far this January.
"They’ve got nobody watching out for them. They’ve got nobody supporting them vocally Downtown," Angelo said of his officers. "We've got a spike in crime and murders and shooting right now that we have not seen in decades and we are restricting proactive policing."
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