Commission recommends lapel cams for BCSO

Sheriff Manny Gonzales addressing the Bernalillo County Commission on lapel cameras. Photo by Thomas Campbell.

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 15 to approve a resolution recommending the implementation of lapel and dashboard cameras by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office—with $1 million of earmarked funds.

The resolution, introduced by vice chair Debbie O’Malley, allocates $500,000 a year after the first year, for maintenance of the cameras.

It also recommends that the sheriff’s department collaborates with the commission to accomplish the implementation of the camera systems. Patrol cars assigned to DWI enforcement already have dash cameras, according to Undersheriff Lawrence Koren.

Ten citizens spoke during the comment period. Five, all but one of whom were associated with BCSO, expressed views against the use of cameras. Five spoke in favor of lapel cameras.

Sheriff Manny Gonzales spoke prior to the vote. He said his department has not had an instance of use of excessive force since he has been sheriff. He said he needs more deputies to fight crime, more facilities and better software and computer systems.

Gonzales said he would like to have a “robust conversation” with the commission.

O’Malley said to Gonzales, “With the kind of authority that you have, comes responsibility. We want a visual recording of that interaction between an officer and an individual, and you can only do that with a lapel camera or a dash cam.”

Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, whose district includes the East Mountains, said she too would like to have a “robust conversation” with the sheriff about “what can really solve some of our problems. There are different issues. There’s transparency. But I’d also really like to look at the things under the thing, as to why there are shootings.”

O’Malley moved to approve the resolution, which was seconded by commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, attending via phone. The resolution passed unanimously.

The resolution states, “implementation of available technologies will have multiple beneficial impacts including Bernalillo County resident safety, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputies’ safety, crime reduction, accountability, transparency, and reducing Bernalillo County liability.”

Gonzales told The Independent, “This is an ill-defined resolution. It’s not based on facts.”

A resolution does not carry the weight of law but is a formal recommendation. When asked by about going forward, Gonzales said, “A lot of this is political gamesmanship.”

Gonzales, addressing the well-being of his deputies, said, “How are they going to be able to adequately go out there and serve the public if they have an environment where they can’t function?”

Gonzales said the community doesn’t care about cameras. “They care about their safety, they care about their kids, their families, being able to go to the grocery store without their cars being stolen, being able to leave their house without it being burglarized.”

“The people want to be able to publicly scrutinize an officer,” Gonzales continued. “That’s not the way our due process is set up. The deputies have to be able to explain the actions they took. They’ll have to go through the scrutiny of being deposed, being looked at, every action they took, every word they said, everything they did.”

“Nobody can criticize or second guess what they did. The Supreme Court said that. We’re not going off what the public perception is,” Gonzales said.

Koren said camera footage can “taint the pool of jurors,” adding, “If you put everything out in the court of public opinion, then where do you go for your jurors?”

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