New Mexico Increases Transparency, Requires Police Cameras

Gov. Lujan Grisham signed a bill this week that requires police officers to wear body cameras and orders the state board to decertify officers that are convicted of unlawful use of force.The law takes effect on Sept. 20.

(TNS) — New Mexico will require sheriff’s deputies and police officers to wear cameras under legislation signed into law Wednesday – a measure triggered by national and local protests against police brutality.

The new law also directs a state board to permanently revoke the certification of any officer convicted of unlawful use of force. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who signed the bill Wednesday, had pushed for its approval in an unusual special legislative session last month.

The law will take effect Sept. 20, forcing cities and counties to move quickly to buy cameras, find a way to store the video and outfit their deputies and officers. But some families say passage came too late.

Elaine Maestas of Tijeras said the killing of her younger sister – Elisha Lucero, a 28-year-old woman shot at least 21 times by Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies last year – underscores the need for cameras. Her family was left with conflicting accounts about what happened, she said, but had no video from deputies.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Maestas said of the new law. “We’re very pleased that no New Mexican family will have to go through the fight we’re going through for full transparency.”

The county settled a lawsuit with Lucero’s family for $4 million.

During the legislative session, opponents of the camera legislation didn’t necessarily object to the call for transparency.

Instead, they assailed the bill as an unfunded mandate that would burden small law enforcement agencies, in particular. Legislative analysts estimated it could cost about $795 for the purchase of each camera, plus $4,900 a year to store the video from each camera.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office – led by Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, who has resisted calls for cameras – said it may challenge the law in court, contending the legislation has serious legal and practical flaws.

“It was adopted without substantive input from the law enforcement community,” deputy Joseph Montiel said in a statement on behalf of the agency. “It relies on outdated and ineffective technology.”

The Legislature’s rush to pass the bill without attaching funding to the measure, he said, “could impair law enforcement’s ability to provide essential services to the citizens of New Mexico.”

Furthermore, Montiel said, the Sheriff’s Office is asking its attorney to consider a legal challenge.

Under the new law, deputies or officers who fail to comply with their department’s camera policies will be “presumed to have acted in bad faith.” Their agencies will face civil liability for spoiling evidence if officers violate the camera policies.

The camera law requires officers to activate their cameras when responding to calls or engaging with a member of the public for a law enforcement or investigative purpose. The video would be retained for about four months.

Each agency is to set policies requiring officers who routinely interact with the public to wear cameras, with discipline imposed for violations.

The legislation, Senate Bill 8, was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. It passed the Senate 31-11 and the House 44-26, picking up some bipartisan support in each chamber.

Passage of the bill comes after protests erupted throughout New Mexico and the nation after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

New Mexico had the nation’s highest per capita rate of killings by police in a recent five-year period, according to legislative analysts.

Many law enforcement agencies in the state, including the Albuquerque Police Department, already require officers to wear cameras.

Police cameras have played a role in the push for change in local law enforcement. Video of a 2014 shooting, for example, incited protests and outrage when it showed Albuquerque police firing on a homeless camper as he turned away from them.

The man, James Boyd, was shot in the back, according to an autopsy.

Shannon Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who represented Boyd’s family, said the camera requirement will allow people to “more swiftly seek truth and justice.”

“Cameras, both body worn lapel, dash cam, and cellphone, have shed light on the utter failure of law enforcement to protect and serve the most vulnerable in our communities,” Kennedy said Wednesday in a written statement. “To mandate law enforcement wear cameras is to hold them accountable to the truth because without the truth there can’t be justice.”

©2020 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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