No maintenance contract on Chicago police dash cams for 2 years

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

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Thursday, December 24, 2015
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For two years, Chicago police didn't have a maintenance contract on the city's supply of squad car dashboard cameras.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC 7 I-Team has learned that for two years, Chicago police didn't have a maintenance contract on the city's supply of squad car dashboard cameras.

The reliability of dash cams has been questioned recently during police-involved shootings and fatalities - especially the Laquan McDonald case.

If prevention is the key to good health, then it's understandable why 80 percent of Chicago Police dash cams have non-working audio and that the video doesn't work in 12 percent of them.

Here's why: The I-Team has learned that the city's initial maintenance contract to keep those cameras in good working condition expired in 2012.

"Those in-car cameras date back to 2007. They are actually old devices," said Chicago Police Department Interim Supt. John Escalante.

Even as Escalante on Wednesday announced an expansion of new police body cameras, he was answering questions about these older dash cams, including the ones that failed to record audio during the McDonald police shooting.

The equipment - made by Coban Technologies in Houston - promises "crystal clear audio." It was installed eight years ago in 1,000 Chicago Police vehicles, purchased under a contract that did have a warranty and maintenance section. But those expired in 2012.

Although police officials say they have relied upon a patchwork of contractors and in-house employees to try to manage the equipment, a lack of reliable, consistent maintenance for two years appears to have left the inventory of dash cams mostly undependable or in disrepair.

The city began shopping for a new dash cam maintenance contract in 2013 and one was signed a year ago, but not before compounding equipment failures and problems.

The new dash cam maintenance contract provides for a similar level of service as would a pending body cam deal with Taser International, featuring on-site technical support and repair benefits.

"You're paying monthly for the device, which would include the hardware; also includes unlimited secure cloud storage, includes maintenance and lifecycle replacement," said Deputy Chief Jonathon Lewin, Chicago Police technology director.

Coban executives wouldn't respond to I-Team questions about the dash cam contract or the new maintenance deal, citing a federal investigation of the McDonald case.

Police officials admit the problem isn't just old equipment and poor upkeep. Escalante on Wednesday talked of officers trying to "circumvent the system." This month, disciplinary cases have been opened on 22 officers for possible dash cam violations.