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Body cameras an unfunded mandate

As my three kids reached their teen years and began to learn to drive, our family decided to purchase additional vehicles for the kids. As a family, we talked for a long time about the things we needed from that investment. We talked to our kids about what they needed, because after all, they were the ones who were going to take to the roads of Albuquerque. We consulted with subject-matter experts such as auto mechanics, insurance agents, vehicle owners and car dealerships. Once we had a fairly good idea of what we needed, we budgeted the money and developed a plan.

Meanwhile, our kids continued to hone their driving skills and learn about the rules of the road and costs associated with operating a vehicle. The final purchases took longer than we thought, and cost more than we had hoped, but we had planned properly – and now my kids drive every day, and our family has survived the financial impact of three teenage drivers.

The way we approached purchasing our personal vehicles is almost exactly opposite from how the state Legislature approached the subject of body-worn cameras. (Lawmakers’) approach was to demand cameras be worn by all law enforcement within 90 days. The bill was passed in secret. The Legislature didn’t consult experts or identify funding. It simply never developed a plan.

Fortunately, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (had) examined body-worn cameras for years prior to the legislation. We consulted with experts. We talked to people who use the desired technology. We obtained proposals and worked with the county procurement department to ensure transparency and accountability. We developed a comprehensive policy to govern our actions. We kept stakeholders informed of our progress.

Not surprisingly, the investment in a quality body camera program is not cheap. For this office, a functional modern body camera program is estimated to cost over $10 million the first five years. This price tag includes devices, training, storage, infrastructure, staffing needs, repair and everything else to make a complex program fully operation. The (Bernalillo County) Commission has been asked to appropriate sufficient money to allow this office to do what the Legislature has demanded. (Commissioners have so far appropriated $3.1 million.)

Without adequate funding, our deputies will not be properly equipped and supported in accordance with the legislation. It’s been suggested that law enforcement reduce (our) vehicle fleet budget and/or cut the number of support staff that make our office run. These are not viable options. We need our deputies to be supported. By not providing any funding for this complex program, the Legislature appears to be surreptitiously defunding law enforcement – or at the very least, disrupting law enforcement services to the community.

The purpose of the camera law is to provide a risk mitigat(ion) tool. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office welcomes risk mitigation. There will be a lot of people who want to see what happens with our office’s interactions with the community. They’ll include prosecutors, judges, lawyers, media and citizens. We’re excited to show how the Sheriff’s Office serves you.

The problem we’re going to have is that the commission has not appropriated funding to hire even one body camera administrator to handle requests for video. We asked for a minimum of eight employees to process requests. By hiring one or two employees, my office will be unable to process requests for recordings in a timely manner. This could result in criminal prosecutions being dismissed and expensive lawsuits for failure to provide records.

The Legislature gave us no plan, no chance for input, no guidance and no money to implement the body-worn camera mandate. I urge the County Commission to fund and staff this system sufficiently in order for Bernalillo County to comply with the law and enable our personnel to serve the members of this community. And to the Legislature, let’s work together to develop a plan you can pay for and that works for all of us.

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