ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s the largest sheriff’s department in New Mexico and among the biggest departments in the state in general, yet the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office does not have body cameras or even dash cams.
Amid the investigation into a fatal deputy-involved shooting for a “self-admitted gang member” in the South Valley on Fourth of July morning, KRQE News 13 asked Sheriff Manuel Gonzales if he thinks lapel cameras would benefit investigations, especially like this one involving lethal force.
The family of the man killed in the shooting has publicly expressed that they believe he was killed in cold blood and that less-than-lethal force, like a Taser, could have been used.
“There’s nothing that proves that a body camera supports or… any criminal investigation. So, for us, we have tape recorders in lieu of that,” Sheriff Gonzales said.
KRQE News 13 asked if he thinks audio recordings are better than video that shows the situation from the “eyes” of the deputy.
“It’s limited in scope what a video camera can do. So, I wouldn’t say it’s not 100 percent. It’s a two-dimensional technology that we can’t support. If it was maybe a three-dimensional and it was a better technology, then maybe I would agree with you, but I can’t agree with that,” he responded.
A study released last year surveyed some of the biggest sheriffs and police departments in the nation. Albuquerque Police was among the respondents.
The study, which can be viewed here, found that only 5 percent of departments said they have no plans to use body cameras. According to a Governing.com article about the study, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said holdouts, like Sheriff Gonzales and others, won’t last long because juries, prosecutors and the courts will demand the use of cameras.
The IACP said the reasoning most departments without cameras give for not having them is typically privacy concerns, or fears that footage could be posted publicly online, according to the article.
KRQE News 13 took Sheriff Gonzales reasoning, which strays from that argument, to the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Mexico group.
“It’s a senseless argument and frankly, I think it is red herring. I think clearly the sheriff is ambivalent about the use of these cameras. I worry that that’s because of a desire not to be as transparent or accountable as a department like the Albuquerque Police Department,” Peter Simonson said.
Simonson said it would better for BCSO to have a two-dimensional video than none at all, adding that lapel video not only holds deputies accountable when they violate protocol, it also exonerates them from false claims.
KRQE News 13 also reached out to District Attorney Raul Torrez, who wouldn’t directly address BCSO’s lack of cameras. Rather, he would only say the he believes all departments should have them.
In the past, Bernalillo County Commissioners have voiced general support of BCSO utilizing body cameras. Some commissioners have said they don’t want to rush the process, however.
Some of the departments in New Mexico that have fully or partially implemented body cameras include:
New Mexico State Police
Santa Fe Police
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office
Rio Rancho Police
Los Lunas Police
Las Cruces Police