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Commissioners try again to get sheriff to accept use of cameras

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday upped the ante in its bid to get deputies to use cameras – both on their dashboards and their lapels – offering to put an additional $1 million toward the effort.

But Sheriff Manuel Gonzales made it clear once again: He is not interested.

The five-member commission unanimously approved a resolution recommending that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office “collaborate” with the commission “to implement a plan to purchase, install, use and manage dashboard and lapel cameras.” It offers up to $1 million in startup money, plus $500,000 in recurring annual funds.

The commission earlier this year approved $500,000 for dash cameras, money that has not been used.

Commissioners said Tuesday that they respected Gonzales’ autonomy as an independently elected official but felt compelled by their constituents to push for the recording devices. Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada compared the cameras to front door locks, saying they give residents peace of mind even if they cannot guarantee total security.

“I want to support you because I’m proud of the work that you’ve done for my community,” Quezada told Gonzales during the meeting. “But I also have to support my community because this is just the way they feel.”

Gonzales had urged the commission not to approve the resolution. Addressing the board from a podium with four members of his department standing behind him, Gonzales said there are better ways to spend money. He noted the department’s existing technology deficiencies and also argued for more staffing.

But Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, the resolution’s sponsor, contended that cameras and more deputies are not mutually exclusive and the commission could in the future entertain a request to fund additional manpower. While BCSO is considered fully staffed, with about 300 deputies, O’Malley noted that the county is embarking on a new staffing analysis that could indicate more are needed.

“We want the department to be successful, but with the kind of authority you have comes responsibility. … We want a visual recording of that interaction between the officer and the individual, and you can only do that with a lapel camera,” she said.

While the resolution offers up to $1 million in one-time funding this fiscal year and $500,000 in annual recurring funds, an actual appropriation would require the commission and sheriff to develop a plan to buy and use the cameras.

It is possible they may never agree.

Gonzales has remained steadfast in his opposition to the cameras, saying he has no proof they are beneficial.

“I’ve sat down with (the commissioners) before; I’m always willing to have discussion,” Gonzales said in an interview after the vote. “But it doesn’t mean I’m going to move my position.”

O’Malley does not see the situation as hopeless.

“I don’t know if it’s a lost cause; I really don’t. It’s one of those things where you just don’t know. They can change their minds about things,” she said after the meeting.

O’Malley began promoting allocations for dash cameras more than a year ago, but the push has gained momentum after the death of Elisha Lucero. Three BCSO deputies fatally shot Lucero during a misdemeanor battery call in July in the South Valley, and a recently released autopsy report found she had at least 21 gunshot wounds.

Gonzales has said deputies were responding to a call that Lucero had hit her uncle. He said deputies tried to get Lucero out of the RV she had parked on her family’s property and were preparing to leave when she ran out of the vehicle screaming and waving a kitchen knife.

He told the commission Tuesday that there are two investigations into the shooting.

But Lucero’s family, friends and other community advocates have begun attending Bernalillo County Commission meetings to argue in favor of BSCO lapel cameras.

Several spoke again Tuesday night, including her sister, Elaine Maestas, who said she lost a part of herself with Lucero’s death.

“What happened to my sister that night was 100% avoidable. We the public deserve the truth and to know exactly what happened that night,” she said. “If this happened to you, trust me you would want to know immediately exactly what happened.”

But several people, including those who have attended the BCSO Citizens Academy, spoke against the expenditure, saying the department has more significant needs.

Aaron Velarde of the Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriffs Association described a department with “horribly lacking facilities” and cruisers with more than 100,000 miles on them.

“We support facts before opinion and would like to see what problem you have identified and the need for those cameras,” he said. “Until then, I urge you to put that money into something else that’s more beneficial to the public.”

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