Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed into law a requirement for all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, regardless of jurisdiction. According to the new law, agencies must also keep footage for at least 120 days.
Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, SB 8 would also allow the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board to revoke certification from any law enforcement officer who is found guilty of using illegal use of force while on duty.
The law comes amid a national push for police accountability, but also after years of pushing from advocates to get local police departments to start using body cameras.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, is one example of an agency that resisted supplying officers with body cameras. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez has long argued that body cameras present an unnecessary cost to his department.
Lujan Grisham added the issue of police body cameras to the list of proposals the Legislature could consider during the special legislative session that took place last month.
According to a press release sent out by Lujan Grisham’s office, the governor added body cameras to the call after George Floyd died while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Prosecutors have charged the officer, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and charged three officers who were nearby and did not intervene with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Video of the killing prompted worldwide protests, including in New Mexico, against police brutality and calls to defund police departments.
It’s been two and a half weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and protests and demonstrations calling for police accountability have continued to increase. Calls to action include a push to defund police forces, demilitarization of police and a reform of use of force standards.
Now, many federal lawmakers are introducing and co-sponsoring bills aimed at changing standard practices and in some cases how police are held accountable in civil suits. Both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, that would change how citizens can sue police for constitutional violations as well as police use of force standards.
New Mexico has its own history of police reforms and calls for better practices — the Albuquerque Police Department is still in the middle of an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice, to reform some unconstitutional policing practices. But attempts at holding officers accountable through civil suits in New Mexico often fall flat because of a federal judicial doctrine that ultimately protects officers from being sued: qualified immunity. Heinrich said qualified immunity makes it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to move forward with civil rights claims in federal court.
“Through the lens of Albuquerque, I think setting the new standard of qualified immunity is a standard of reasonable action,” Heinrich said.
Albuquerque Police Department officials have altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings, the department’s former records supervisor has alleged in a sworn affidavit. Three officers’ body camera videos that captured events surrounding the fatal shooting of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014 were either altered or partially deleted, according to former APD employee Reynaldo Chavez’s nine-page affidavit. Also alleged is that surveillance camera video from a salon showing APD officers shooting Jeremy Robertson, a law enforcement informant and suspected probation violator, in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
This piece originally appeared at NM In Depth and is reprinted at NM Political Report with permission. Chavez also said that ‘SD cards’ from cameras were easy to make disappear, and that he witnessed Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman say ‘we can make this disappear’ when discussing a particular police camera with an SD card in it, according the affidavit.
Lawmakers favored adding a new group to rank alongside people of color, LGBT people, the physically and mentally impaired and others as protected under the state Human Rights Act—law enforcement officers. The bill, which the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee passed Tuesday afternoon on a 5-4 party-line vote, would make crimes committed against law enforcement officers specifically because they are law enforcement officers hate crimes. House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said penalties for people who commit crimes against an officer on the first offense would increase by one year and on the second offense by two years. “A couple of police officers were murdered in the line of duty last year,” Gentry said, referring to New Mexico officers Daniel Webster and Gregg “Nigel” Benner. Gentry cited an increasing number of officers killed by guns in the country, which he said grew by 56 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Legislators wrestled Wednesday afternoon with the idea of adding cops and law enforcement to the list of protected classes under state hate crime laws. State House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is carrying the bill as part of a “tough on crime” package endorsed by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and the House Republican leadership. One GOP lawmaker expressed his skepticism of the idea in a hearing of Gentry’s bill at the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. “I believe we’ve got laws already on the books that should take care of this,” state Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, told Gentry at the hearing. “A lot of these things go on the judge’s discretion anyway.”
The committee didn’t vote on whether to endorse the bill or not.