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Study examining APD’s use of lapel cameras

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Privacy experts, the public, the Department of Justice, even police officers themselves, all have raised questions about APD’s use of body cameras.

Now, an attempt to resolve some of those issues is underway. The University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research has begun its detailed study into the Albuquerque Police Department’s lapel camera policies and practices, Paul Guerin, who will head the study, said in an email.

Its findings could lead to changes to APD procedures.

Current policy calls for all uniformed officers to record every interaction with a civilian, APD spokesman Tanner Tixier said.

That policy, in itself, has raised concern in some quarters. But there also is concern about the inconsistency of the cameras’ use despite the policy.

The city will pay up to $51,000 for the study, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.

The institute’s review will include watching video footage that officers collect and holding focus groups with officers. The institute will make a report that includes suggestions on how APD can audit its officers’ use of the cameras and possibly suggest changes.

Time and budget permitting, the researchers also are tasked with reviewing the different types of on-body cameras available for law enforcement.

In May 2013, Albuquerque police purchased 600 Taser lapel cameras, giving the department more than 700 on-body cameras. The city’s contract with Taser is for about $1.95 million.

“Technology in this particular field is always changing. And (on-body cameras) are new to the field of policing,” Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said. “Perhaps a manufacturer has come up with a better product.”

Perry said the city is interested in comparing battery life and uploading software of various lapel camera manufacturers.

He said among the numerous concerns about APD’s lapel camera policy is the amount of time officers spend uploading recordings to a website – upwards of 15 percent to 20 percent of their shift.

And there also are concerns about victims, witnesses and medical patients who are recorded.

“Our officers don’t have a problem with lapel cameras, but we do have a problem with how cameras are being used, and the policy governing their use,” Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association Stephanie Lopez said in a statement. “At issue for us are victims’ rights, and whether the use of cameras may mean an invasion of their privacy.”

Footage from APD’s on-body cameras has been the subject of controversy. In March, an on-body camera showed the fatal shooting of James Boyd, which sparked outcry and led to street protests in the wake of its release. A month later, officer Jeremy Dear’s lapel camera did not record anything before he shot and killed Mary Hawkes, which also led to public scrutiny.

The Justice Department, in an April report that said APD had a pattern of violating constitutional rights through excessive force, spoke positively of APD’s widespread lapel camera policy. But the agency said it was concerned about how often officers violated the policy without being disciplined.

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