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Lincoln County law enforcement follows strict guidelines for body cameras

Pamela L. Bonner
Ruidoso News

All law enforcement in New Mexico are now required, by law, to wear body cams while on duty at all times.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation on July 8 requiring New Mexico police officers to wear body cameras as a deterrent against unlawful use of force and establishing strengthened accountability measures in instances of inappropriate excessive force. 

Lincoln County law enforcement agencies placed the usage of body cams into practice several years ago with strict guidelines for all law enforcement officers while on duty.

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"We have been using body cams for the safety of our department. We have followed the guidelines placed by the New Mexico County risk management over the years, and continue to," said Lincoln County Sheriff Robert Shepperd.

Lincoln County Sheriff Robert Shepperd said the use of body cams by his deputies had been protocol fro several years.

The camera requirement applies to city police, county sheriff’s agencies as well as state police and the Department of Public Safety. Tribal governments are exempt from the law.

Law enforcement agencies must maintain the body camera footage for at least 120 days. Police who interfere with the devices or otherwise flout the camera requirement could face penalties for withholding evidence. 

"Ruidoso police officers have been wearing body cameras for years now. It protects our department from erroneous complaints against us," said Ruidoso Police Chief Darren Hooker.

All Lincoln County law enforcement officers have received training and have been instructed by superiors to "make certain they are turned on and left on for the duration of any stop."

"We have made it very clear to our deputies that the cameras must remain on during any official encounters (traffic stops, arrests, serving warrants and the like) with the public. This protects the department from any potential wrongful allegations," said Shepperd.

In addition, Senate Bill 8 establishes that the Law Enforcement Academy Board will now permanently revoke the certification of any police officer who is found guilty, pleads guilty or pleads no contest to a crime involving unlawful use or threatened use of force in the line of duty, or if he or she failed to intervene in a police action involving unlawful use of force, per release

"Our deputies are fully qualified and understand how the body cams work and proper protocol when using them," Shepperd said.

"We want to educate about everything that is going on now (quarantines and face masks mandates). We have had one type of body camera or another since 2012. We have policies that are set, we have storage capacities. Our deputies will be held liable if there is a camera malfunction or if they are on a call and they do not activate them," he said.

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Ruidoso Police Chief Darren Hooker

The measure sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes passed the Senate 31-11 and the House 44-26 in the June special session, which centered primarily on repairing a $2 billion hole in the state’s COVID-damaged budget.

The governor added the policing legislation to the agenda following the May 25 murder of George Floyd, who died while pleading for breath as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

"We have had policy in place for years now. Our department continues to use body cams, and supports them. They have been very beneficial to our department, and day to day activities. Everybody wants transparency, and what a better way to have it," said Hooker.

Senate Bill 8 pairs with another bill signed by the governor after the special session establishing a state Civil Rights Commission, which will provide recommendations to the Legislature about other public safety reform as well as qualified immunity.

"When this Bill went to the house, no amendments were allowed. The senate had already adjourned. It was too late for any type of amendment at this point," said Shepperd. "We are not concerned about having to use them. We already do."

Pamela L. Bonner may be reached at Pbonner@RuidosoNews.com, Pam Bonner on Facebook, @Pamelalbonner1 on Twitter, or by phone at 575-202-5555.