The police department in Columbus, Ohio, is attempting to recover hundreds of thousands of hours of dashcam recordings after an unfortunate classification gaffe by a veteran officer deleted the mass of videos.
"A veteran police officer was attempting to remove old classifications the department used before the end of 2015 to search for videos," Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs told WOSU Radio. The officer thought the videos would automatically switch to the newer classification system.
According to Government Technology magazine, the incident took place on March 8. Officers didn't realize the files were gone until March 13.
"Instead of transferring over to the new system, the settings defaulted to a 90-day retention schedule," said Jacobs. "And because most of them were from 2015, they automatically purged to that 90-day retention schedule."
After the officer made the mistake, the system purged about 100,000 video files without warning. The department didn't realize what had happened until about 12 hours after the mass deletion.
The Columbus Division of Police immediately began trying to recover those videos. Unfortunately, it hasn't been able to recover a single one.
The majority of the deleted video files are from 2015. Jacobs calls the incident a "significant loss." Every video from 2015 was deleted, and about 500 videos from 2016 were deleted.
"While we don't think it's going to have a big impact on prosecutions, we did believe it was important to say this now rather than waiting for somebody else to discover it," said Jacobs in a news conference. "We believe that transparency means acknowledging our mistakes."
The original classification system had 18 different categories for labeling the dashcam videos. For example, if a stop was triggered by the acceleration of a patrol car, the video would be classified under "speed." The new system simplified the files into three categories: evidence, not evidence and permanent.
The officer who purged the videos was attempting to switch the old videos to the new labeling format.
Backseat investigations made up about 24,000 of the videos lost. Many of the other videos were misdemeanor traffic stops.
"We're also going to have a planned change," said Jacobs, "Where that person who plans to make the change will do a check and balance with somebody else and say, 'This is what I'm doing, this is my intention. This is why I wanna do it. This is what I expect to happen. Do you agree? Do you approve?' All of that."
At press time, the planned changes have not yet been implemented.