Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Sheriff (Finally) Dons a Camera

Gonzales Finally Embraces Body Cams


Manny Gonzales has often pitted himself as the “tough on crime” sheriff, but Gonzales also has his fair share of controversy that will follow him, should he decide to declare a mayoral campaign. Former Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White believes this will be where Gonzales needs to shine. “People look at sheriffs differently than the chief of police," advises White. "They are more outspoken. They tend to be viewed as crime fighters. He’s an elected official. He will be promoting the things they’ve done to fight crime and prove he’s gotten results.”

Gonzales certainly seems to have taken that idea to heart, coming into an election year. The much-talked-about body camera controversy for sheriff’s deputies is now one of the ways in which the sheriff has embraced the "tough on crime" moniker. But he hasn’t always felt that way. Amid calls for law enforcement around the country to be required to wear body cameras, Gonzales fought back. During an interview with KOAT-TV in 2018, Gonzales said, “The public does not care about the lapel camera issue, and the technology is not proven. I'm calling everybody out. If they can provide me any studies on accountability and transparency when it comes to body-worn cameras, provide it for me, because I have yet to find one," Gonzales said.

In fact there were studies out by that time. The California Police Officers’ Association released a study in 2017, saying body cameras were a way to create trust and transparency between law enforcement and the public. The National Institute on Justice also released a report in 2018, stating that the cameras would help law enforcement by creating training opportunities, better transparency and corroborating evidence.

Following a 2017 spike in deputy-involved shootings, including five in one month, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government criticized Gonzales' resistance to using the devices. "Whenever a law enforcement agency in New Mexico experiences this kind of pattern with officer-involved shootings, it's time to pay attention," said then ACLU Director of Public Policy Steve Allen. 

Gonzales was still skeptical about his deputies wearing body cams until July of last year, when he said he was looking into deputies using smartphones in their vests as a camera, instead. This change of heart came shortly after Governor Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law requiring all New Mexico law enforcement to wear body cams. 

Then in January of this year, the sheriff announced his deputies would wear body cameras that were in smartphones. The cameras start automatically recording when deputies unholster their gun, respond to a call or activate their vehicle’s lights. The videos are uploaded into the cloud. “It’s definitely a leap forward in progress as far as the technology, as far as the equipment,” said Lt. Pete Golden, a watch commander with BCSO told reporters. In response to past pushback from Gonzales, “We now have body worn cameras, so that issue is now null and void,” Golden said. Case closed.

The sheriff's office has definitely taken the technology and run with it. In the past three weeks, at least seven deputy vehicle dash cam or officer body cam videos was uploaded to the department’s Facebook page. The move seems to have garnered support as well from followers, as most videos highlight deputies in the field in a more action-packed point-of-view, tracking down all the bad guys around the county. For a city that is tackling a violent crime problem, with 14 homicides in January alone, it could be a smart move from the sheriff’s office. Darren White believes that it is. He says crime may be the single issue that voters will focus on in the mayoral election. “This community is either tired of the direction crime is going and wants to elect someone who shows they are strong on crime, or they don’t.”


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