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Bernalillo PD upgrading body cameras and protocols

Signpost Staff

Bernalillo Police Department officers will soon be adding new items to their uniforms: Taser-brand body cameras to record interactions with the public. Even the animal-control officer will be wearing one.

The Taser Axon video system is more dependable than the older and mostly worn out cameras it’s replacing, BPD Chief Tom Romero said. Reliable, high-quality video can aid in prosecutions, training, and civilian complaints, he added.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve reviewed a lot of video,” Romero told town councilors at their May 9 meeting. “It’s good for training because you can see if officers are taking any shortcuts, but it’s also protected the officers of the town from allegations of misconduct.”

Mayor Jack Torres said he’s fielded unfounded citizen complaints where video has made a difference. “The evidence is right there,” he said. “It’s interesting when I tell people we have the video—how the react.”

Along with the new cameras comes a seven-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) the Bernalillo Town Council approved in May that governs when the cameras are used and how the video is handled. Previously, a slim collection of directives guided the officers.

Under the SOP, video not needed as evidence will be deleted after 120 days, Romero said.

While the protocol allows an officer to record most encounters with the public, it requires recording of traffic stops, arrests, service of search warrants, searches of vehicles outside impound locations and any contact that might lead to a use of force. Also included are encounters with people known to have a mental illness.

DWI checkpoints won’t be recorded unless a driver becomes confrontational or the officer anticipates an arrest or other enforcement action.

The SOP gives officers some discretion in recording in places where people can expect privacy, for example hospitals or restrooms. In those cases, video not providing evidence is to be redacted, or otherwise protected, under the state public-records law, although the unaltered video will still be retained if needed for criminal and civil court cases.

Officers also get some slack if they are thrust into an active situation and don’t turn the camera on immediately. “In the heat of the moment, they may forget to turn it on, and we understand that,” Romero said. “They still have their dash camera going at that time.”

Romero said the BPD policy draws from how other departments handle the cameras and video and a review by two consultants working with the Department of Justice on reforming aspects of Albuquerque Police Department policies. Town officers also reviewed the SOP.

The town is spending about $13,000 dollars to buy 25 of the cameras, which are expected to be assigned to officers sometime this month. Officers, based on what they thought would work better for them, could choose either a four hundred dollar chest-mounted camera and recorder or a nearly seven hundred dollar model with a separate camera that clips on a collar or shoulder epaulet. “The thought was: if we give the officers an option to select the camera, they are more apt to wear it and use it properly,” Romero said

 
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