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Editorial: Hawkes shooting shows value of lapel cameras

There are no winners in the tragic incident in which then-Albuquerque Police Department officer Jeremy Dear shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes after a foot chase in the Southeast Heights in April 2014.

Now that a team of prosecutors assembled by District Attorney Raúl Torrez has concluded Dear should not be charged criminally, it’s time to tally up the casualties from this tragic case.

A young woman is dead. A police officer’s career is ruined. Taxpayers shelled out $5 million in a civil settlement to the Hawkes family after they sued the city.

And don’t forget the hit to public confidence in APD and the system as the prosecutors and lawyers for the family are still clearly at odds over what happened that night.

“The question we had to ask was, did she have a gun?” Assistant District Attorney Michael Cox said. “We couldn’t overcome the possibility that she had a gun and she pointed it. All the evidence showed that she did.” If that’s true, then Dear is also a victim here.

Not surprisingly, plaintiffs’ lawyer Laura Schauer Ives disputes the findings, which she describes as a “gross mischaracterization of the evidence.”

She says the results show Torrez’s promise of an impartial review was a hollow one.

While much remains murky and contested, there is one clear takeaway from this case: on-body cameras worn by police officers perform an important function.

Dear’s camera was not turned on that fateful night – which led to his firing by then-Chief Gorden Eden – so police and grieving loved ones have no way of knowing what really happened. It’s a lesson Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and county commissioners should take to heart.

Gonzales has resisted cameras for his department, which has been beset by a rash of shootings by deputies – including a case in which plaintiff’s lawyer Sam Bregman claims deputy Joshua Mora never gave any commands before fatally shooting Isaac Padilla and Martin Jim, an unarmed passenger in the back seat of a stolen truck.

County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins wants an outside firm to audit BCSO and its policies, and she voted against a one-month delay in selecting a company for the job.

“Any significant jump in the use-of-force incidents is cause for concern, so it’s important to understand the factors that might be driving that increase,” Hart Stebbins told the Journal in an interview. “We need to make sure we’re following best practices both to protect our deputies and to protect the public.”

Unfortunately a majority of the commissioners agreed to the delay in its meeting last week.

The commission cannot force Gonzales to do anything – he is an independent elected official. But the commission controls the purse strings.

It should use them to put pressure on Gonzales to adopt the technology that has become standard for modern policing.

As the Hawkes case clearly shows, it’s something the public and law enforcement should demand.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.