ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - While many police departments in New Mexico use dashboard-mounted cameras to record officer’s interactions with the public, the state’s largest police agency has no plans to put the cameras to widespread use.
“While the dash-cam is a useful tool for the officers, it only gets pretty much what’s directly in front of the vehicle,” said Commander Paul Hansen of the Albuquerque Police Department.
And while APD does have dashboard-mounted cameras in the four patrol cars officers use to patrol area highways, the department prefers to use lapel cameras instead. Every officer is issued a lapel camera, which they are supposed to turn on when they interact with the public.
“The lapel camera – it goes where the officer goes,” Hansen said.
In fact, the department expanded the use of those lapel cameras after a national law enforcement think tank hired to look into APD’s excessive force problems recommended it about a year and a half ago. Now, officers are required to roll on every encounter with citizens.
But sometimes, even in high-profile cases, that doesn’t happen.
For example, in March when APD officers shot and killed a suspected thief in Albuquerque’s Uptown district, none of the three SWAT officers who fired turned on their lapel cameras. In fact, none of the officers who responded to the scene turned on lapel cameras, according to APD.
Hansen said officers sometimes forget to switch on their lapel cameras in tense situations.
However, Ousama Rasheed, the immediate past president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, questioned whether that forgetfulness is accidental.
“The police officers don’t always like the fact that their every word, their every statement, their every mood, their every attitude be recorded when they’re interacting with a person in the public,” Rasheed said.
But beyond that, Rasheed said lapel video often does little to help the state’s case against suspects in court.
“As (officers’) body turns or they orient their bodies in a different position, they very often fail to capture significant portions of the actual contact,” he said.
Rasheed admitted that dash cams have a limited view too, but said they are generally more reliable than lapel cameras.
“The dash cam videos – there is a reason that so many departments use them and so few use lapel cameras,” he said.
Dash cams have a longer battery life and more memory space than lapel cameras. Also, they come on automatically when officers turn on emergency lights.
Many New Mexico police departments have come to the same conclusion as Rasheed.
All 300 New Mexico State Police cars are equipped with dashboard cameras, while the Santa Fe Police Department, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the Farmington Police Department also use them in most if not all patrol cars. Even smaller departments like the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office equip their cars with dashboard cameras.
“Officers are going to be on their best behavior and acting professional because they are being recorded,” said Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez. “Secondly, it saves the department against frivolous claims and accusations.”
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office – the state’s largest sheriff’s department – uses neither dashboard nor lapel cameras. BCSO requires deputies to wear devices that capture audio interactions only. A spokesman said that’s because they’ve been reliable and tested in the courts.
Hansen said the one major factor against APD equipping all its cars with dashboard cameras is the cost, which can range from $2,500 too $5,000 per car. Lapel cameras, by comparison, are priced under $100.
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