New Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen is having a serious case of buyer’s remorse on taxpayers’ behalf — a seven-figure case to be precise.
Allen says the $3.8 million, five-year contract with Utility Inc. — which included 310 BodyWorn cameras, plus uniform tailoring, vehicle cameras front and back, cruiser Wi-Fi hotspots, and holsters that activate the cameras when a firearm is drawn — is for “trash” technology. While former Sheriff Manuel Gonzales championed the cameras as the latest in tech and said his team conducted extensive research before settling on Utility, Allen’s administration says in practice:
• The microphones are affected by wind/area noise.
• There’s not enough memory to record more than seven hours, when the video is automatically “clipped.”
• Uploading takes a long time with good cell service/is impossible without good cell service.
• Once uploaded, the videos are inaccessible until processed by the company.
• There’s no easy way to share long videos with the media or others.
Allen adds he has staff investigating whether the department can get out of the contract and what better options are out there.
Gonzales had been resistant to adopting body cameras for years, despite law enforcement agencies across the nation making them standard equipment and the Albuquerque Police Department mandating them as part of reforms under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. He maintained for years there was no evidence they made for better policing and he had other budget priorities. He did not touch $1 million in startup money or $500,000 in recurring annual funds the county set aside for cameras in 2019.
That changed in 2020 when the N.M. Legislature required all law enforcement agencies be outfitted with body cameras. BCSO missed the September 2020 deadline; all deputies had the cameras in January 2021, according to Journal coverage at the time. Allen says the rush to comply resulted in a lack of due diligence: “I think the sheriff’s office … should have had body cams probably two years previous. Then the law came out and they were rushed, and I think that pushed people into the corner to get things done.” Gonzales did not answer a request for comment.
The public has to be asking “why are we years into a multimillion-dollar contract and only now finding out the audio on the cameras is often compromised and the video sits in the cloud for weeks on end?”
Hint for county officials: There is no good answer to that question.
Yet, Bernalillo County taxpayers — which include all Albuquerque taxpayers — deserve a real answer. And to know that, going forward, when their elected officials spend millions of dollars on public safety, it delivers for our deputies and our residents.
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.