If Laquan McDonald’s death at the hands of Chicago policeman Jason Van Dyke hadn’t been recorded on dashcam video, Van Dyke, like countless officers before him, might never have been arrested or charged with murder. A new DNAinfo report on the state of dashcams in Chicago squad cars illuminates just how close that was to happening.
After Chicago police officials said that 80 percent of dashcam videos captured by their force were without audio due to officer error or “intentional destruction,” DNAinfo reporters Mark Konkol and Paul Biasco obtained police maintenance logs covering the city’s squad cars. What they found confirmed a systemic neglect and disabling of dashcams in police vehicles, five of which were present at the scene of McDonald’s death.
Of the dashcam in the squad car belonging to Van Dyke and his partner Joseph Walsh, Mark Konkol and Paul Biasco write:
On June 17, 2014, police technicians reported fixing a dashcam wiring issue in police vehicle No. 6412, the squad shared by Van Dyke and Walsh, about three months after it was reported broken, records show.
A day later, the same vehicle’s dashcam system was reported busted again. It took until Oct. 8, 2014, to complete repairs of what technicians deemed “intentional damage,” according to reports.
Just 12 days later, on Oct. 20, 2014, dashcam video recorded from squad car No. 6412 on the night Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald did not record audio. The video that went viral showing Van Dyke killing Laquan was taken from a different squad car, but it, too, had no audio.
According to DNAinfo, those were the only two cars to record video at all. Two other dashcams recorded nothing, while a fifth captured only audio. One car failed to record video “due to disk error,” while another suffered a “power issue” that resulted in the dashcam being “not engaged.”
Maintenance records related to those vehicles—No. 8489, belonging to officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph McElligott; and No. 8756, assigned to Arturo Bacerra and Leticia Valez—appear to show discrepancies in reporting:
Regarding car 8489:
Police maintenance records show a request to repair the dashcam in that squad car was made Oct. 15, 2014 — five days before Laquan’s shooting. Yet, on Oct. 31, 2014, technicians found “no problems” with the equipment.
Regarding car 8756:
Police vehicle No. 8756 had a working dashcam that recorded 124 “event videos” in October 2014 without a single request for maintenance that month.
But on the night of Laquan’s shooting, the vehicle assigned to Arturo Bacerra and Leticia Valez reportedly had a “power issue” and the dashcam was “not engaged.”
It wasn’t until Nov. 23 that a repair request was issued for that squad car’s dashcam. Less than two weeks later, technicians reported, “no problems found,” police records show.
The logs for relating to all Chicago PD vehicles, which show that officers yanked out batteries or hid microphones in glove boxes, can be read here: