ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Starting Sunday, APD’s cameras should be rolling any time an officer encounters a citizen.
It’s an expansion of an existing policy that required officers to use small, digital lapel-mounted cameras that look like pens or, as a last resort, analog audio tape recorders, to record calls most likely to result in citizen complaints. Those included disorderly conduct arrests and instances where officers search vehicles or homes.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said the change was recommended by the Police Oversight Commission.
“Hopefully, this will help to resolve some of the issues that have been ongoing,” Schultz said, referring to officers’ versions of events — particularly in use of force cases — being called into question by community groups.
By last summer, each of the more than 650 uniformed officers had been issued a small lapel camera, Schultz said. APD has bought more than 1,200 of the easily breakable cameras for about $100 each since the department began ordering them in 2010.
The department has purchased about 200 of the newer pen-cameras for about $60 apiece, the chief said.
“We continue to see good results where the officers are exonerated after having false complaints made against them,” he said.
APD has released video recordings of two of the 24 officer-involved shootings since 2010. One of those came from a lapel camera. The Journal is awaiting a response to a public records request for recordings, if they exist, from the other shootings.
Schultz said the policy change is likely to create a “logistical nightmare” for APD administrative staff. The department’s officers respond to more than 1,500 calls for service per day on average.
“The technology still continues to emerge, and it is not yet perfect,” he said. “We’re trying to work through the bugs, and the biggest problem for us is going to be how to copy and retain the video from the cameras.”
Previously, officers were required to keep videos in cases where an arrest was made until the statute of limitations had expired for the crime charged. In cases where no arrest was made but a citizen complaint was likely, the videos had to be kept for 90 days.
The new policy maintains the retention period for cases where someone is arrested and extends it to 120 days for the other category of videos.
Officers have been downloading the videos to their laptop computers, Schultz said. But with the expansion, videos will be transferred from laptops to hard drives and servers in APD substations. In some cases, they will be burned onto DVDs.
The administrative staff will be allowed to download the videos at the end of officers’ shifts, the chief said, to cut down on overtime.
Officers can be reprimanded for not turning on their recorders, Schultz said. An officer could be fired if he or she repeatedly fails to record citizen encounters.
Lapel cameras hold about six hours worth of video. The pen cameras hold less than two hours. Schultz said a full camera would be an acceptable reason not to record an encounter.
“Calls for service are our priority,” he said, adding that he hopes the new policy won’t hurt police response times. “It does require them to download the video, but we will still go to that next call as quickly as possible.”