NM Dems backtrack on police body cam enforcement

By: - March 10, 2023 5:40 am

In the summer of 2020, against a backdrop of outrage over racist police violence and massive demonstrations following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico passed a law requiring law enforcement to use body-worn cameras and save the footage. Now, Senate Democrats are rolling the law back, creating more leniency and exemptions.

Existing law, sponsored in 2020 by Sen. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), applies to state, county and city law enforcement. It assumes officers who don’t use their body cams, or who erase them, are being intentionally dishonest and spoiling evidence. A bill moving through the Legislature would allow a judge to make that call on a case-by-case basis.

“And that’s the way it should have been when I passed this bill originally,” Cervantes said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I put such a harsh result in the original legislation, and that’s because we had a very small handful of law enforcement who said they would not honor the wishes of this legislature.”

Cervantes said Manny Gonzales, then-sheriff of the state’s largest county, was “openly hostile” to the requirement, but that things look different in 2023.

“I believe the resistance has now evaporated entirely,” he told his colleagues.

In addition to more wiggle room on whether to use the lapel cameras, officers working undercover or dealing with an explosive device would be exempt entirely under a committee substitute for Senate Bill 368.

The proposal’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Harold Pope (Albuquerque), says a third exemption for officers notifying a member of the public of a death was removed from the original bill after state and Albuquerque police said those types of interactions can create situations that are helpful to capture.

Republican Sen. Craig Brandt (Rio Rancho) told Pope during debate on the Senate floor that he was grateful Democrats were pulling back on the body cam requirement but said many GOP lawmakers saw issues with it from the jump.

“These things could have been fixed in 2020,” he said. “But we were ignored.”

While research on the tech’s effectiveness has been mixeda 2021 report that updates earlier studies showed police use of force dropped by 10% when their cameras were on.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously. It’ll now get vetted in the House.

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Nash Jones, KUNM News
Nash Jones, KUNM News

Nash Jones (they/them) grew up in Albuquerque and returned home in 2017 after 11 years away living in Portland, OR, and Oakland, CA. Storytelling and community education have consistently been at the core of Nash’s varied career and are, in part, what brought them to KUNM, first as a volunteer host with Spoken Word Hour and NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, then as a staff member in the KUNM newsroom, hosting Morning Edition (2018-2021) and reporting. Nash currently hosts NPR's All Things Considered and continues to report for KUNM.