On Wednesday, July 8 New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham approved part of a budget proposal that would require all law enforcement officers in the state wear body cameras while on duty.
Sponsored by state Senator Joseph Cervantes (31-D) representing Dona Ana County, the bill passed in both the House and the Senate, which Grisham signed into law during special session.That law, which has been widely debated both in-state and nationally is already a part of police agencies like the Albuquerque Police Department, but at least a half-dozen state agencies don’t require the use of cameras. Under the bill, law enforcement agencies would be required to keep 120 days’ worth of footage, and police agencies that ignore the bill could feasibly be sued for withholding evidence.
However, none of those issues seem to be relevant to Socorro County law enforcement.
City of Socorro Police Chief Mike Winders, who has been on the job for 23 years said he and his officers have been using body cameras for the better part of a decade.
“We actually had a sergeant at the time that bought what was called a Scorpion. He bought it and he said hey, look what I bought. I’m able to record people and document stuff, and we said hey, that’s cool. So we bought a few more of those,” Winders said. “And we were just running along doing that. We were probably one of, if not the first in the state. As they started catching on and people started on, and I’m not even sure if the Scorpion was actually intended for police. It was probably more of a Go Pro.
“But then we found that they were useful in documenting stuff and helping with officer complaints. So we just kept going with them,” he said. “Then it progressed. We’re all the way to here where if they’re mandated, we don’t have a problem with it. We’ve been doing it for years.”
Currently SPD is using Wolfcom cameras which offer two-way communication via remote view, live streaming and connectivity via 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Winders said there are no issues with his staff sporting body cameras, as it’s already part of their daily routine.
“We’ve had them for so long that it is what it is,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody has an opinion about them, they’ve worn them for so long. That’s a piece of their uniform.”
He agreed that the cameras are not only good for law enforcement, but good for the public as well.
“It keeps everybody honest in my opinion. It takes the guess work out of what happened. You watch the video and it is what it is. You can always get into what exactly happened there, but it helps immensely. It shows transparency,” Winders said. “I think transparency is transparency. I think it’s the same everywhere.”
Magdalena Marshal Michael Zamora, who has been on the job for three years, shares a similar sentiment.
“We already had our vest-on body cams. I was carrying them back in 2010. When I was working in Hurley, New Mexico it was part of our equipment. We wore it, so basically I have no problem with it. I became chief down there and I reinforced the use of body cams. I became marshal here about three years ago and I’m still doing it. I’ve got no problems with it,” he said.
Zamora has a three-man force, and he said he’s seen positives from the use of cameras. He can go back and review every video and if there’s something listed in the report, he can go back to video and go about it that way.
He said he’s never encountered an issue when it comes to him and his fellow officers using body cameras.
“I tell them to turn it on every time they interact with the community and the public,” Zamora said. “I have no problem being transparent.”
While dollars and cents may be an issue for larger departments in light of the governor’s recent budget proposal, Zamora said that’s not a problem for his small department.
“Of course there’s an issue there, but it’s not a big deal with me. We’re a small department. I can see issues with other departments who are 50-men plus. But for me, I see no problem,” Zamora said. “They’ll go back and re-tweak it to hopefully where they’ll get some funding for cameras. It’s been in our budget. We have no problems in storing the videos.”