During the special session, the New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, which will require all New Mexico law enforcement agencies to start using body cameras within 90 days of it becoming law. Chalk this one up to the best of intentions done in a clueless way.
Senate Bill 8, in its present form, should not be signed by Governor Grisham. This doesn’t mean it should never become law, but it’s present form is a mess and Grisham should veto it.
The first issue with SB 8 is the 90-day period for police / sheriff departments to come into compliance. This is not achievable. Local jurisdictions have rules and regulations regarding the purchasing of equipment. These rules are in place to protect against the public’s money being wasted or spent in a corrupt way. Ask the State Auditor what happens if these rules are violated.
Jurisdictions have to research the product, then put the product out to bid, then review the bids that come in and then make a final decision on which company to purchase the cameras and the cloud storage from. This can take months and it should not be rushed. This is our money they are spending, and they should spend it wisely. Speaker Egolf and the legislature rushed this bill, ignoring the actual rules that govern the spending of our money by our city and county governments.
The second issue is policy. It can take weeks, or months to develop a policy for body cameras. To make policy the community must have a seat at the table, SB 8 does not provide enough time for this to happen. Communities are going to get something forced upon them that they probably don’t want. Is that what Egolf wanted? The community not to have any input into police policy making.
The third issue is purchasing the equipment. Remember we are living in a COVID 19 world. The body camera manufacturers are working at limited capacity just like everyone else. They will not be able to get the thousands of cameras and storage set up in just 90 days. It’s not just one camera per officer. Shaun Willoughby with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association tells me that APD requires two cameras per officers so that they always have one charging. What if the body camera companies can’t deliver in 90 days? Apparently Egolf didn’t consider this.
The fourth issue is training. Once you have the cameras and the policy you must train the officers. That can take several weeks depending on the size of the agency. Can you begin to see how the 90-day time limit is simply ridiculous?
The fifth issue is that SB 8 is an unfunded mandate. In a time of a pandemic, where local jurisdictions are seeing their tax base collapse why would the legislature force an unfunded mandate on them? Speaker Egolf says there is federal money for them to use. Ok, has Egolf ever applied for a federal grant? It takes months or more to get approved for the money and get it delivered! Yet Egolf is only giving the local jurisdictions 90 days to do it all!
The sixth issue is that SB 8 does not apply to federal law enforcement in New Mexico. The feds have a sick double standard when it comes to police body cameras. They demand that local cops and deputies wear them, but then refuse to require federal law enforcement (US Marshals, FBI, Probation and Parole etc) to wear cameras. In fact, the feds, by policy, do not allow local officers who are assigned to federal police tasks forces to wear body cameras. This is a gaping hole in SB 8 that must be addressed. Either all law enforcement in New Mexico is required to wear body cameras or none should be. Why are the US Marshals and FBI, for example, exempt from wearing cameras? Don’t they get into shootings and use of force issues?
Of course federal law enforcement uses deadly force. Below is cell phone video of an unarmed man who was shot in the head by federal agents in Albuquerque back in 2014. You won’t see any police body camera footage because the DOJ mandates that federal cops, and local cops assigned to their task force, not wear cameras. Why didn’t Egolf address this in SB 8? Because he rushed the legislation without thorough debate.
What does a better law enforcement body camera bill look like? The best option is for the state to take it over. The New Mexico State Police already mandates the use of body cameras. The NMSP has studied different products, they have developed policies, instituted training and they have the cloud storage. Grisham would be smart to enact legislation that orders the NMSP to increase their body camera program to include all New Mexico law enforcement agencies. This would standardize the entire program. NMSP can obtain the grant money from the federal government to pay for the entire state. This is the smart answer.
Any legislation should also prohibit any New Mexico police and sheriffs from participating with federal law enforcement, unless they can utilize their cameras. All law enforcement officers, local, state and federal, should be wearing body cameras when they interact with the public. Future legislation should ensure this.
The only option Governor Grisham has is to veto SB 8, but with a message to New Mexico law enforcement that she will be sponsoring better body camera legislation during the 2021 session that provides for standardized equipment, policies and training for all New Mexico law enforcement officers. This is the smart path forward.