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Editorial: APD early camera reformer

Sometimes, being on the cutting edge can result in self-inflicted wounds. That’s certainly been the case with the Albuquerque Police Department’s early adoption of lapel cameras. And while just about everything in the program has raised questions, from the propriety of the original contract to recording in someone’s home, it is important to remember:

1. APD voluntarily made lapel cameras part of its standard operating procedures in 2012 as a means to be more accountable to the public it serves.

2. It is now trying to revamp its policy based in part on the findings of what CAO Rob Perry says is one of the nation’s first comprehensive research projects into a metro area police officers’ use of on-body camera systems.

The University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research spent more than a year reviewing APD’s calls for service and video data and conducted focus groups with sworn personnel. The conclusions are in line with the use of any emerging technology. In sum, there is a need for bright-line policies regarding what to record, what happens when policy is violated, how video is shared, as well as technical support and training.

And while the focus groups found “participants supported the use of a camera system,” the UNM researchers “believe the current policy is confusing and officers do not completely understand” it. The result has been inconsistent use of cameras, a drop in casual public interactions because officers are unsure if those should be recorded, and concerns among officers over citizens’ privacy rights.

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez says the city has a draft policy clarifying camera use, but it needs to be reviewed by the Department of Justice and the court-appointed monitor before it can be submitted to federal court for approval.

APD deserves credit for being an early adopter of camera technology, and for examining its use in order to honor its intent – to ensure officers are serving the public they have sworn to protect.

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.