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Mobile Camera Will Back Up APD Officers

APD officer Felipe Garcia, right foreground, tries to get APD's new mobile surveillance unit working during a news conference on Monday. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Journal)
APD officer Felipe Garcia, right foreground, tries to get APD's new mobile surveillance unit working during a news conference on Monday. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Journal)
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Albuquerque police officials on Monday rolled out a mobile camera system that will give them a bird’s-eye view of lengthy SWAT situations, the Downtown bar scene and property criminals in the act.

It comes in the form of a metal, two-wheeled trailer equipped with a 30-foot extendable boom that holds four cameras.

Police Chief Ray Schultz said at a news conference Monday that a series of malfunctions and limitations with the cameras officers used during a SWAT standoff on June 20 prompted his decision to use the new $68,000 equipment during tactical situations.

The chief released 23 videos from the June SWAT call, which lasted 15 hours, featured an exchange of gunfire between an officer and 20-year-old Santiago Chavez and ended when police say Chavez fatally shot himself inside his family’s home on the 400 block of 67th Street.

“During the investigation into the SWAT call, detectives discovered that some of the SWAT team members’ personal video recorders had shut off after 30 minutes,” according to an APD news release. “Some of the recorders … showed nothing but darkness and in some cases SWAT team members (had difficulty) turning the cameras on and off while (as they prepared) for a possible entry into the home.”

Earlier this year, Schultz announced that all officers would be required to start using department-issued lapel-mounted cameras to record all contacts with citizens. It was an expansion of a policy implemented in 2010 in which officers were required to record contacts that could lead to citizen complaints.

The recording effort followed community and media pressure after a spike in police shootings. City officials also contracted a law enforcement think tank to make recommendations related to the department’s use of force.

APD officers have shot 24 men since 2010, 17 of them fatally, and the U.S. Justice Department is considering investigating whether the department has a pattern or practice of violating civil rights.

Schultz has said recording citizen contacts gives officers an opportunity to “vindicate” themselves in the event a complaint is filed, but officers were having trouble with their cameras during the June 20 incident.

In one of the videos released Monday from the June SWAT call, an officer can be heard complaining that he doesn’t know how to work the lapel-mounted camera.

“This is gonna get someone killed,” the officer says.

Another officer responds: “Oh, yeah it is.”

In addition to the four cameras, which can be controlled remotely, the new APD trailer is equipped with solar panels and a diesel engine. Schultz said it can be deployed for as long as a month without maintenance.

That makes the trailer a good fit for long-term property crime operations, Schultz said. For example, detectives, with permission from business owners, can set the trailer up for surveillance at construction yards that are experiencing high levels of theft.

The chief also plans to set the trailer up near the stretch of bars along Central Avenue Downtown on busy nights to record citizen-police contacts.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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