Opinion: Suspicious Deletion of 100,000 Cruiser Video Files by Columbus Police

Melat Eskender Melat Eskender Opinion: Suspicious Deletion of 100,000 Cruiser Video Files by Columbus PolicePhoto via Columbus Division of Police.
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The Columbus Police Department has undergone “a significant loss” in dash-camera videos stored from Columbus Police Division traffic stops and call responses, Police Chief Kim Jacobs announced Tuesday. An estimated 100,000 videos were deleted, which included the entirety of videos recorded in 2015, and an estimated 500 video files from last year. This incident was the result of an officer’s blundering attempt to reclassify thousands of video files. The deletion occurred on March 8, and officers became aware of the missing files March 13.

The Columbus Police Department had begun to implement a more manageable classification system for video files by decreasing the categories a video could be classified under from 18 to three. That Wednesday, a sworn officer had relabeled the files under the impression that files were being transferred to the three-category system. It was later discovered the settings had defaulted to a 90-day retention schedule and were instead erased from the server.

An internal investigation is currently being conducted, and the city’s Department of Technology is working with police to try to recover the files. Officials will not undertake the task to recover all of the lost video, but instead will decide which files are worth recovering. Initially covered by the Columbus Dispatch, more details are available here.

This alleged mistake has fostered controversy within Columbus with a multitude of individuals believing the department’s actions to be suspicious. In the comment section of the Columbus Dispatch’s article, several key protestations were addressed. User “s erio” commented, “…I am home pc user and even I can’t delete files without warnings. This was done on purpose, I don’t care what they say. Absolutely sickening the corruption in our local government.” Jeremy Little embellished on his point, adding, “HOW would there be no backup storage? This doesn’t pass the smell test at all.” A similar comment was later posted by Daniel Hazard saying, “If the files aren’t backed up every day on an external site you need to fire your IT guys.”

These individuals posed readers with a valid point: does the department not have these types of precautions installed within their technology? It’s highly probable that the answer is no. Thus, the reader is left to ponder the level of corruption throughout our police department, and for what reasons these videos would have purposely been deleted. As DaveScottSC commented, this “silly us” excuse is arduous to accept.

In addition, it is disconcerting that the department can immediately erase these video files and simultaneously delineate which videos are of import within the recovery process. To allow the department to become the arbiter of this collection of deleted files requires trust from the public, the type of trust this department does not have.

This distrust stems from the Columbus Police Department’s record pertaining to their treatment of African-Americans and low-income communities. Tyre King and Henry Green have not been forgotten, and their deaths are the product of the Columbus Police Department’s complicity in upholding racial inequities. King, a 13-year-old black boy, and Green, a 23-year-old black man, were both victims of the Columbus Police Department’s racial stigmatization of African-Americans.

The Columbus Police Department disproportionately targets blacks for violence according to the statistics cited in mappingpoliceviolence.org. Between January 2013 and June 2016, police homicide rates averaged 25 blacks killed for every 100,000 nationally, double the average of 12 white people killed. Locally, Columbus police ranked 16th out of the nation’s 100 largest cities, with the highest rate in the state of Ohio at 82 per 100,000 blacks. In comparison, Cincinnati had a rate of 45 killed per 100,000 black people, and Cleveland had a rate of 29 killed per 100,000 black people. Toledo trailed behind at a rate of only 26 deaths per 100,000 blacks. This stark contrast within our state, within our country, is evidence of the department’s failure to police black communities justly.

The malpractices of the Columbus Police Department has eroded friendly relations between some of the city’s inhabitants and its officers, a complication exacerbated by Mayor Ginther’s expansion of “the Summer Safety Initiative” and this deletion of hundreds of thousands of video files.

EDIT (3/27/17 1:05pm) — Some of the deleted videos were originally reported as being recorded in 2017. A correction was made to reflect that they were all recorded in 2015 and 2016.

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