New top cop warns officers they’ll face discipline if dash cams not working – Chicago Tribune

As part of his first order of business since taking over the Chicago Police Department days ago, interim Superintendent John Escalante has warned that officers will face disciplinary action if they don’t make sure the video and audio functions of dashboard cameras in their squad cars are working properly at the start of their shifts.

The 29-year department veteran was named to temporarily succeed Garry McCarthy, who was fired in the fallout over the release of a disturbing dash-cam video that captured Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. That recording and four other dash-cam videos from different squad cars at the shooting scene, however, had little discernible audio.

During an interview in his office at police headquarters Friday afternoon, Escalante, 51, called the department’s current policy on the use of dashboard cameras appropriate but said he wanted to make sure officers on the front lines and their supervisors are following it correctly.

“We’ve sent inspectors out to the districts who are also doing random checks,” he said. “And if an inspector finds an in-car camera isn’t working and legitimately has some technical issues but the officer didn’t notify their supervisor … then the inspectors have been taking discipline.”

Escalante said he thinks the video of McDonald’s fatal shooting in October 2014 was “probably a little harder” to watch than most videos of violent deaths because a police officer was responsible.

“We have good men and women out there that know and follow our use-of-force policy,” he said. “Obviously, in this particular case, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered.”

Escalante said he understands why people are so angry over the video, but he doesn’t think there’s any way to “prove or disprove” if a systemic code of silence exists within the department.

He also disagreed with the timing of the video’s release, saying that it shouldn’t have been made public because it’s evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation. But Escalante said the public has a right to have its questions answered.

“We’re looking right now as to what (other videos) we can release, and how soon we can release it without jeopardizing an ongoing investigation,” he said. “It’s something we’re talking about, but I don’t have an answer for you right now as to how we’re going to do it.”

Escalante, who is Hispanic, ascended rapidly through the command ranks under McCarthy, who had just named him his first deputy superintendent in October following the retirement of Alfonza Wysinger.

Despite his promotion to interim superintendent, Escalante hasn’t moved into McCarthy’s office, staying instead in his first deputy quarters.

For now, Escalante said he plans on continuing McCarthy’s policies, including holding weekly meetings on CompStat, the department’s data-driven strategy that uses crime statistics and street intelligence to hold police brass accountable for their neighborhoods.

Unlike McCarthy, though, Escalante is unlikely to be as rough on district commanders at the meetings for upticks in crime.

“We’re different people, different personalities, probably a little bit of different management styles,” he said. “I know the one thing we definitely have in common is the passion for policing and this Police Department.

“But I would say I’m definitely a little quieter, probably a little bit more laid back,” he said. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way towards him. We’re just very different people.

“You know, right now, there’s good people in place. And good people in place that he put in those positions. And I’m going to rely very heavily on them in the days and weeks ahead moving forward.”

With Chicago’s homicides up about 13 percent and shootings even more so over last year, Escalante also pledged to continue McCarthy’s overtime initiative that calls for as many as 200 veteran officers to work every day on their days off in 20 of the most dangerous areas of the city’s South and West sides.

Even though the overtime program has cost city taxpayers around $100 million or more a year since 2013, Escalante believes the investment is necessary.

“And I know there are some critics that question the amount of overtime that’s spent,” he said. “But again, in the long term, versus hiring someone, having them go through a career, paying them the pension, there’s still a cost savings down the line that people sometimes forget.”

As for whether Escalante plans to seek the top post permanently, he said he’s been too busy since taking over the department to give it much thought.

“But I will. I’ll think about it, without a doubt,” he said.

jgorner@tribpub.com

Twitter @JeremyGorner

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