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Advocate: Statewide Police Body Cams A "Step In The Right Direction"

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A bill that requires all law enforcement officers in New Mexico to wear body cameras passed out of the state legislature Monday and now awaits Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Research out of George Mason University last year, which reviewed 70 studies on the body-worn cameras, found that the devices don’t have a significant or consistent impact on most officer behavior, or how community members view the police. KUNM’s Nash Jones spoke with Barron Jones, Senior Policy Analyst with the ACLU of New Mexico, about whether mandating police body cameras statewide is a meaningful step for New Mexico to take as it seeks to reform policing in response to renewed calls for change here and across the country. 

BARRON JONES: New Mexico leads the nation in police killings, so it brings a little bit of accountability where there was none. Although body cameras law will not reduce police violence, the videos generated will be super helpful for prosecuting criminal cases and they will also help discipline officers who use excessive force, and then also will go a long way to let the family members of folks harmed by police violence know what happened in those instances. And one thing we do know is if Albuquerque Police Department officers weren't equipped with body-worn cameras we would not have seen James Boyd murdered in the foothills, and that high profile use of force cases really played a key role in changing what policing looked like in the Albuquerque area. So, I just wanted to highlight that.

KUNM: Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies have not been required to wear body cameras. And Sheriff Manny Gonzalez has spoken out against them. He told KOAT last year that "a camera is not going to save anyone's life." And he called them a "distraction." Is there concern that this law won't be supported from the top in Bernalillo County when agencies are charged with creating their own policies and procedures to implement it?

JONES: Yeah, no, it's not a concern. Sheriff Gonzalez, and most folks in county government, not only are they charged with managing their various departments, they're also charged with upholding the law. This is a bill that once signed, it will become law. So, it's no longer, you know, discretionary. We expect Sheriff Gonzalez to follow the law.

KUNM: Some lawmakers expressed concerns about the cost of the cameras and the data storage, since the bill is not funded, especially as so many local governments are hurting financially right now amid the pandemic. It's also supposed to be implemented within 90 days. Do you have any concerns about whether this is feasible, both in cost and in timing?

JONES: No, I do not have any concerns. Despite the debate on the House floor, you know, law enforcement, they're not suffering for lack of resources, right? And the same resources that are used to acquire mine-resistant vehicles and some of the other things could be maybe used to purchase body-worn cameras. And also, the cost can be offset by federal grants.

KUNM: If police body cameras are tools that aim to reduce police violence, increase accountability and build community trust, what else needs to be done to supplement what body cameras are able to contribute to this work?

JONES: I think body cameras will do little to address the epidemic of police violence in New Mexico and across the nation. People have been murdered in our state and around the country by police, and it's been captured on official body camera footage. And so, this bill, while it's a nice step in the right direction, we need to come up with solutions that lessen the interactions between law enforcement and members of our marginalized communities. Like having law enforcement officials not respond to situations where folks are experiencing mental health crisis. And redirect resources from over-policing to services such as substance abuse treatment, services and resources for those living with housing insecurity and things like that. So, there's tons that could be done, other than equip an officer with body-worn cameras, to stop the police violence that has just really ravaged marginalized communities across New Mexico and the nation.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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