Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque’s Police Oversight Board members said their investigators have recently been prohibited from making copies of police videos as part of their reviews of police shootings and other cases.
Joanne Fine, chairwoman of the board, said the prohibition affects the ability of the civilian oversight groups to do their jobs. She asked Police Chief Gorden Eden in a letter to lift it.
Assistant City Attorney Jeremy Schmehl told board members during its Thursday night meeting that investigators and oversight board members can still view police videos. But police have reduced the number of personnel who can make copies of police videos after allegations that Reynaldo Chavez, a former records custodian, made against the department.
Chavez said in a affidavit as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the city that several police shooting videos were altered before they were released to the public and to attorneys involved in lawsuits connected to those shootings. The videos are typically made with on-body cameras, which most Albuquerque police officers wear.
Police officials have said that they’ve made only limited edits to shooting videos, such as blocking out gruesome injuries or sections that identify undercover officers.
Schmehl said police changed their practices to prevent edited videos from publicly circulating.
“The ability to download has been severely limited in the department itself. Only a few personnel have that ability,” Schmehl said.
Ed Harnes, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, said the explanation for preventing oversight investigators from downloading videos is misleading. The CPOA investigates civilian complaints against officers, police shootings and other serious use-of-force cases, and the board makes recommendations about discipline and policy changes.
“I think the argument they make is specious and calls into question the integrity of our agency,” he said. “We are not going to be downloading videos so they can be altered and produced (publicly).”
Schmehl said that if altered copies of police videos are released publicly, it could lead people to question the authenticity of the actual police videos.
“To make that argument sounds ironic, at best,” Fine said, pointing out that police, not police oversight groups, have been accused of doing that.
She said the restriction also hurts that validity of CPOA investigations. The CPOA’s investigative files have typically included those videos, she said, as well as other reports and documents. Those files are then turned over to independent monitor overseeing a yearslong police reform effort so he could judge whether the CPOA and POB were in compliance with a settlement agreement outlining the reform effort.
“Our purpose is to enhance trust and build trust between the community and the Police Department, and we’re not going to get there if we have walls we have to climb over,” Fine said.