The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Mixed reactions to police body cam law


Last updated 6/27/2020 at 3:53pm

In the wake of nationwide racial unrest, protests and rallies, a new law has been handed down from Santa Fe that requires New Mexico law officers to wear body cameras and keep them turned on.

And not everyone is pleased with it.

Count State Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and State Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, among them. While both lawmakers are all for racial justice and equality, each has his reasons to think the body-camera law may hurt more than it helps.

Meanwhile, Clovis Police Chief Doug Ford is awaiting more clarity before deciding exactly what he thinks about the statute.

“Right now we’re still reviewing the new legislation,” Ford said. “We’ve never even been told when it’s going to take effect; there are a lot of logistics on this. Right now we’re trying to figure out what it’s going to entail. The law’s there, but there’s still a lot we’ve got to look at.”

What Woods and Crowder have looked at concerns them.

Crowder’s main issue is what he believes to be a violation of the state’s constitution. He says the law goes against the grain of Article X, Section VIII, which deals with unfunded mandates. The section states that a state rule or regulation for any city or county to engage in any new activity “shall not have the force of law unless or until the state provides sufficient new funding or the means of new funding,” Crowder said, quoting from the section.

“I am not opposed to body cameras; I think they’re a wonderful tool,” Crowder added. “But I do think the bill that was crafted in urgency because of what I think are political reasons is a very poorly written bill.”

Crowder noted there are 96 municipal police departments, 33 sheriff’s offices and nearly 4,000 law enforcement officers in New Mexico. That’s a lot of cameras, which cost the taxpayers a lot of money and don’t always hold up well.

“By way of example,” Crowder said, “Clovis’ police department has had to discard 20 of their cameras; they get dropped, they break, they’re very fragile.”

Crowder also said 12 Clovis Police Department cameras are in the shop for repairs. He said the cost to provide cameras throughout New Mexico under the new law will be $3 million to $5 million. “That’s what the analysts were telling us while we were in session,” Crowder said.

And then there is the additional expense of video storage, Crowder noted. Plus, officers could need more than just one camera.

“Police have a rough-and-tumble job,” Crowder said. “They’ve got to have back-up cameras.”

Crowder was hoping to tweak the bill and address the costs, but said he wasn’t given time to do so.

For Woods, the legislative process didn’t give police departments enough representation.

“I voted against that bill,” Woods said. “We’re trying to regulate or create policy, or force police departments to create policy, and we’re not asking for their input. We just went in there with a bunch of dadgum trial lawyers in my view, and they told (the police departments) that this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to make you more liable for your actions.

“99.999 percent of our policemen are good people,” Woods added, “but their lives are at risk, too. … We have got some great policemen and they serve us well. And now we’re going to ruin them financially sooner or later ... because of the law we passed. And that ain’t right.”

Body cameras for university police were discussed during Friday’s Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents meeting. Interim Chancellor Patrice Caldwell told regents the school’s public safety officers have been equipped with body cameras since 2015, so the university won’t incur any additional costs with compliance. Vice President of Business Affairs Scott Smart, in response to regent questions, said video files are stored by the department and backed up at an off-campus site.


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