Albuquerque police may have more on-body cameras than any other police department in the country, but city officials say there are serious problems with the police department’s lapel camera policy that need to be fixed.
The city will pay $50,000 for a University of New Mexico professor to study APD’s lapel camera policies with an eye toward making changes.
Albuquerque police require officers to record all encounters with citizens on their lapel cameras. The policy is aimed at increasing transparency.
But the Department of Justice has raised concern over how often officers violate the policy without being disciplined, which it says contributed to use-of-force incidents.
City and union officials have other concerns, as well.
“It was well-intended,” Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said of the policy. “But I don’t think it’s working as effectively as it should.”
He said field services officers spend 15 to 20 percent of their shift uploading and logging footage they record. And police officials have concerns about privacy rights of victims and witnesses who are recorded by police, and how the hours of recorded videos affect the discovery process as cases wind through court.
Witnesses and victims have complained about being recorded by officers, said Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association.
“We believe we should have lapel cameras for transparency,” she said. “But there should be exceptions.”
APD has about 715 of the cameras – more than any other police department in the country, said former APD Chief Ray Schultz, who is now a consultant for Taser International, which manufactures the cameras.
Schultz said APD started to use on-body cameras for DWI officers to gather evidence of field-sobriety tests. He said the department expanded its use of the cameras in 2010, when there was an increase in officer-involved shootings. APD officers have shot and killed 27 people since 2010.
Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, said Tuesday that in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, there is growing demand across the country for police officers to wear cameras.
“Society is really questioning what really happens in these instances. It comes down to one word: uncertainty,” Tuttle said. “We have something we provide to law enforcement that allows them to provide certainty and clarity.”
In Albuquerque, an APD officer’s camera footage of the fatal shooting of James Boyd in March, which showed officers shooting him as he was turning away, incited widespread protests and national attention.
There is a criminal investigation into that shooting, which occurred just before the Justice Department released its report saying that APD had a pattern of civil rights violations because of excessive force.
Since the release of that report, APD came under more fire when Officer Jeremy Dear shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes several months ago, but no video was recorded.
Perry said the study will include focus groups with APD officers, examining lapel camera policies for other agencies and establishing a plan for APD to better audit officers’ use of lapel cameras.
Paul Guerin, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, will head the study, which is expected to take six months.
The Justice Department, in its report, said it’s good policy for police to record all interactions. However, the agency said it was concerned about how often officers violate the policy without being disciplined.
“These internal accountability and policy failures combine with the department’s inadequate training to contribute to uses of excessive force,” the report states.
The study into the policies of lapel camera use will not investigate APD’s procurement of the video recorders, which is being investigated by the city’s Office of Internal Audit at the request of city councilors who are concerned about Schultz’s involvement with Taser International.
APD has 600 on-body lapel cameras made by Taser International, while another 115 or so are made by other companies.