ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For years, the Bernalillo County Sheriff has resisted the idea of outfitting his deputies with on-body cameras. With growing concern about law enforcement policies and reform, county and city officials are now looking for ways to require the use of body cameras for law enforcement.
On Monday, attorneys with the Public Defenders office marched outside the courthouse in Albuquerque, chanting, “What do we want? Body Cameras! When do we want ’em? Now!” The group called on the District Attorney’s office to join the demand for mandating body cameras for law enforcement.
Then Tuesday, questions from the public during Mayor Tim Keller’s telephone town hall centered around law enforcement policies and reform. The discussion follows a wave of protests both nationally and locally after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by Minnesota police.
One constituent asked city officials, “What is the city’s position about police using body cameras?” Sarita Nair, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer, said while Albuquerque Police officers wear body cameras and the city supports their use, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department still does not use the technology.
“That is a big gap in our city,” said Nair. “This is one area where we need to bring that ‘One Albuquerque’ spirit to make sure all law enforcement officers in our area are wearing on-body cameras,” she added.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales declined an interview with KRQE News 13 on Wednesday. He’s resisted the idea of body cameras in the past, saying he’d rather spend needed funding on better equipment and raises for deputies, and that he hasn’t seen proof body cameras reduce crime.
Debbie O’Malley, Bernalillo County Commission Chair, said she’s received more emails from concerned citizens about the issue lately. “From people who very strongly support law enforcement who felt you know, this is something that just should happen – what’s the controversy behind it?” O’Malley said.
“We are the ones who approve a budget for the Sheriff’s Department, so there’s authority to amend the budget,” said O’Malley. “I think it’s important for us to ask now, what can we do to require that he do that?”
O’Malley said she’s asked legal counsel whether the commission can use its authority to require deputies to use lapel cameras. City counselors in Albuquerque have explored similar ideas.
Last summer, city attorneys determined the city would not have the authority to mandate how the Sheriff operates his department. City Councilor Pat Davis said there may be options to regulate how BCSO reports are managed within city limits, and call for independent investigations when an incident lacks video evidence, for example.
If it’s an issue of funding, O’Malley said the commission already passed a resolution to set aside $1 million, with a reoccurring $500,000 in the budget to help BCSO launch a body camera program. She expects extra funding will be needed to maintain the program, but it’s a start, she explained.
“A lot of our taxes go to law enforcement and public safety, and this is important I believe – to the majority of people in this community,” said O’Malley. “And I think that the Sheriff needs to listen to that.”
BCSO sent the following statement to KRQE News 13:
New Mexico Sheriff’s enforce and follow the rule of law, and if the New Mexico Legislature enacts new legislation BCSO will follow that law, if deemed constitutional. We currently have 304 sworn in BCSO. There are 7 dash Cameras as of today.Deputy Connor Otero, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office