The statute says officers who regularly interact with the public and are employed by law enforcement agencies should wear body-worn cameras while on duty.
It defines a “law enforcement agency” as “the police department of a municipality, the sheriff's office of a county, the New Mexico state police or the department of public safety,” not explicitly including university police departments.
UNMPD officers undergo training at the New Mexico Department of Public Safety Police Academy, according to UNMPD’s website.
Jennifer Burrill – president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association – said that UNMPD should be required to comply with the 2020 statute because of the officers’ training.
“What matters is if they’ve gone through the police academy, and if they’ve been certified. So if they’re certified police officers, then yes, they’re held by that,” Burrill said.
UNMPD also regularly interacts with the public, Taylor Smith said – a civil rights attorney with Smith & Associates who often takes on cases against New Mexico police departments.
“There is no doubt that UNM is an open campus. The public is there everyday, if not more than some of the student body,” Smith wrote.
However, New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, Peter Simonson, had a different interpretation of how the law applies to university police departments.
Because this definition does not list university police departments, they are not necessarily required to follow the law, Simonson said.
“We have not had conversations with the UNM Police Department, but I’m guessing that they’re well aware of the loophole,” Simonson said. “It’s probably the reason why they have not taken the step of implementing body-worn cameras.”
A public records request by the Daily Lobo to the University for UNMPD body-worn camera footage from Aug. 1 - Oct. 30, 2023 yielded no responsive documents.
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Another public records request by the Daily Lobo to the Bernalillo County district attorney also produced no body-worn camera footage from UNMPD.
Smith represents three student protestors who were arrested by UNMPD at the Nov. 30, 2022 protest against Charlie Kirk. UNM’s litigation counsel told Smith no body-worn camera footage existed in the case.
In another case Smith is working on, multiple students were arrested while sitting in their car outside a dorm building after UNMPD said they were breaking into vehicles.
Smith said when he got involved to potentially bring a civil rights lawsuit to determine whether the arrests of the students were legitimate, he said he was unable to obtain body-worn camera footage.
“Without that video, I can’t objectively sit here today and say whether or not what the officer saw was true,” Smith said.
Smith plans to bring a case against UNM to learn why body-worn cameras were not used in either instance and whether the court thinks the 2020 statute applies to UNMPD, he said.
UNMPD’s Standard Operating Procedures Manual, which was last revised in 2022, does not mention body-worn cameras. It lists policies on digital recording devices, but does not specify whether these devices include video. UNMPD did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.
Burrill said the digital recording devices discussed in the SOP are strictly for audio.
The Albuquerque Police Department’s SOP Manual allots 11 pages of guidelines to the “Use of On-Body Recording Devices,” which are defined as “a video and audio recording device issued by the Department.”
APD adopted its body camera policy in 2012, according to the ACLU, eight years before the statewide law was implemented.
“Just because the law doesn’t explicitly say ‘university police’ doesn’t mean that the department can’t take it upon itself to adopt the use of this technology, given how important it’s turned out to be in policing all around the state and country,” Simonson said.
Lily Alexander is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @llilyalexander
Lauren Lifke is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lauren_lifke
Lauren Lifke is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo.
Lily Alexander is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted on Twitter @llilyalexander