A ransomware attack compromised Atlanta computer systems in March, destroying stored police dashcam footage. Police Chief Erika Shields minimized the problem but experts expressed concerns.
The Atlanta Police Department has mostly recovered from a March ransomware attack that crippled computer systems across the city, but the outage compromised years of dashcam videos, Chief Erika Shields told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News. Shields said her department has not lost access to investigatory files or crucial evidence. “I would not sugarcoat that. I have been asking since Day One, ‘… Do we have criminal investigatory files that have been compromised?’ And I have been told, no,” she said. Still, dashcam footage from before the March attack “is lost and cannot be recovered,” Shields said. The lost footage could compromise DUI cases if an officer’s testimony isn’t sufficient. It’s unclear how many investigations might be affected. “I’m not overly concerned,” she said, adding, “The dashcam doesn’t make the cases for us. There’s got to be the corroborating testimony of the officer. There will be other pieces of evidence. It’s not something that makes or breaks cases for us.”
Others have more concern. Ken Allen, an Atlanta police union official and a retired investigator, said in a use of force or officer-involved collision investigation, video evidence can help determine if an officer or suspect’s actions were appropriate. “I think what it does, in a climate we already have that’s anti-police and seems to question our reactions, is it hurts that relationship that is already strained,” he said. Jessica Gabel Cino, a Georgia State law professor who specializes in trial procedure and forensic and scientific evidence, said dashcams often provide vital video and audio evidence. “These days cases are broken or they’re made on dashcam footage,” she said. In March, hackers held for ransom much of Atlanta’s computer network, disrupting city services. Municipal court was out of commission for weeks.