Bernalillo County signed a contract with Utility Associates Inc. to outfit deputies with cell-phone-based cameras, according to Jayme Fuller, Bernalillo County Sheriff Transparency and Public Information Coordinator.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales has long opposed body cameras for his deputies.

State law now mandates body-worn cameras for all law enforcement agencies. The announcement about the contract came from Gonzales last week via press release.

Fuller said Gonzales “has wanted to implement the best technology available that works with our existing technology and Body Worn by Utility is going to supply that to our deputies.”

Gonzales wrote in an op-ed published by the Albuquerque Journal Nov. 18, “Without adequate funding, our deputies will not be properly equipped and supported in accordance with the legislation. It’s been suggested that law enforcement reduce (our) vehicle fleet budget and/or cut the number of support staff that make our office run. These are not viable options. We need our deputies to be supported. By not providing any funding for this complex program, the Legislature appears to be surreptitiously defunding law enforcement—or at the very least, disrupting law enforcement services to the community.”

Gonzales called on the Bernalillo County Commission “to fund and staff this system sufficiently in order for Bernalillo County to comply with the law and enable our personnel to serve the members of this community.”

Fuller said the total cost for the five-year contract will be about $3.1 million.

Morgas Baca estimated the cost for the first year at $1.7 million, with an annual recurring expense of $345,000 for the next four years.

Fuller said another $320,000 is estimated for “reclassification of existing vacant positions” like IT staff.

Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty also said the county does not have enough money to fully fund the entire purchase, but wants to make the body cameras a priority for capital outlay funding.

Pyskoty said the county would be putting its capital outlay and legislative priorities list together for its Dec. 8 meeting.

Pyskoty said about $2 million had already been allocated for to buy body cameras, but the money just sat there. She also said the funds aren’t just for purchase of the phones, but for hiring people as well.

“Somebody has to basically be the librarian to store this video and keep track of it,” Pyskoty said. “The county, we always get [Inspection of Public Records Act] requests, and so I imagine people are going to be asking for camera footage. So then somebody has to be on staff to look that up and give it to the person and blot out any details because part of it is a civil rights issue.”

Fuller said on Nov. 10, the county commission held an administrative meeting in which it granted Morgas Baca the authority to get enough cameras and vehicle recording units for about 200 deputies.

Morgas Baca said in the memo the Sheriff’s Office chose the cell-phone based cameras because it “is the most advanced that offers real time technology including CAD Activation, Holster Sensor Activation, Vehicle Sensor Activation, has the ability to start automatic recording, sends alerts to all nearby officers and many other capabilities.”

According to a video released by the Sheriff’s Office this summer, the cell phone will be clipped to a deputy’s shirt, and the deputy will be able to turn the camera on and off using a large red button on the side of the phone, which will also double as a work phone.

“I think it provides the necessary data and transparency for all sides,” Pyskoty said. “It’s beneficial to provide transparency for all sides to protect our officers as well as our citizens to have a recording of what happened in an interaction with the sheriffs.”

The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a date for when the cameras will be operational in the field, Fuller said, because the office needs to hire additional staff and make other preparations before the cameras can be used full time.

Felecia Pohl
Felecia Pohl