Many law enforcement agencies not in compliance with body camera requirement

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s now state law that all law enforcement officers in New Mexico wear body cameras. Agencies have had months to prepare but many are struggling to comply.

“When we go to court it’s very important to have as much information as possible,” said NM Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Jonathan Ibarra. “I think it helps prosecutors, it helps defense attorneys, it helps defendants, helps everybody to have a better understanding of what actually happened.”

Defense lawyers said body cameras are a crucial tool for the courtroom because they provide transparency. On the heels of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, lawmakers here in New Mexico passed a bill during a special session in June that requires all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras. That bill went into effect Sunday. Agencies had three months to find the cameras and the money to buy them, but KRQE News 13 learned many agencies still do not have them.

“It’s kind of like when everyone needed plexiglass for keeping people apart during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Fifth Judicial District District Attorney Diana Luce. “At the same time, people are asking these companies who have the body cam equipment and technology we all suddenly need it.”

Bernalillo County Commissioners even gave a million dollars to the Sheriff’s Office, who have fought against body cameras for years. BCSO said, currently, six out of its 325 deputies have body cameras and are only testing them out.

“We certainly desire to have 100 percent participation,” said BCSO PIO Jayme Fuller. “The ability for our agency to properly equip and staff a body-worn camera on every single deputy requires adequate funding, staff needing training and the availability of the devices.”

Albuquerque Public Schools said their police department has a couple of cameras so far but not everyone is equipped yet because they’re in the process of testing them out also.

Even though the University of New Mexico Police said back in June they were actively looking for body cameras, a spokesperson said Monday that UNM’s legal team believes the university is exempt from this requirement. But the bill’s sponsor, Senator Joseph Cervantes, said in June that all law enforcement agencies, including school and university police departments, will be required to wear them.

“The bill requires that local law enforcement agencies adopt their own policies and procedures so it has some mandatory parameters including turning it on and turning it off and the fact that the video has to be retained and maintained and remain available for a certain time,” said Sen. Cervantes in June.

KRQE News 13 asked the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office what happens if a department is not in compliance with this new law and if there was a grace period for departments to get into compliance but only got the following response:

All law enforcement should comply with the law and use body cameras, but it is becoming more clear that the legislature will need to reconsider providing adequate funding to ensure full compliance.

Attorney General Hector Balderas

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