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Defense attorneys support statewide use of body cameras

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Criminal defense attorneys said Friday that they support a clear-cut policy that has law enforcement officers statewide use body cameras to record almost all of their criminal and traffic investigations.

The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, in a prepared statement, encouraged the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to start using the cameras and applauded the Albuquerque Police Department for being a leader in the area. APD was the first metropolitan police department in the country to outfit most of its officers with the cameras, but the BCSO doesn’t use them.

Albuquerque attorney Barry Porter, the treasurer of the association, said the defense bar took a stance on the matter because both the APD and BCSO received attention recently for their camera policies.

Albuquerque police revealed this week a University of New Mexico study that made several key suggested changes to the department’s on-body camera policy. The study found that Albuquerque’s current policy is confusing and difficult for officers to follow, and supervisors to audit.

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The department is considering changes to the policy as part of a reform effort outlined in a settlement between the city and Department of Justice.

And last week, the Bernalillo County commission and sheriff were sued over the alleged wrongful death of an 88-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease who was shot with pepper balls, which are like paint balls filled with a stinging chemical, and who suffered broken bones after a police K-9 knocked him over.

The man’s family is seeking to have a judge order the Sheriff’s Office to start to using the cameras as part of the relief they seeking in the lawsuit.

A BCSO spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

“Right now, BCSO has no mandatory policy, and citizens outside of Albuquerque city limits are not provided the same protections that body cameras afford the citizens of Albuquerque,” the defense bar said in a statement.

Porter said defense attorneys support having police record all traffic stops, on-scene investigations, interviews with witnesses and suspects, arrests, and the searches of persons, homes, vehicles and personal belongings.

But Porter said that, because of trial publicity and privacy issues, defense attorneys are in favor of limiting the disclosure of certain videos to attorneys and law enforcement involved in ongoing investigations and criminal cases.

“When people know they are being recorded, everybody behaves better. Both the citizens being recorded and the police themselves,” he said.

The defense bar also wants mandatory discipline for officers who violate camera policies.

An APD spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday. City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said this week that the city has developed a draft of an updated lapel camera policy. Before that policy goes into effect, it will have to be reviewed by the police union, the DOJ and the independent monitor, and federal judge overseeing the reform effort, which is underway after the DOJ investigation found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force.

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