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DOJ Catch 22 Snags APD

DOJ Catch 22 Snags APD

At the same time it has been urging local police departments to use body cameras, the DOJ has been telling its agents that local officers that use body cameras can't be part of joint federal and local task forces.

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

It might not be the ultimate in government double-speak, but it’s up there.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been urging local police departments across the U.S. to equip their officers with body cameras so they can record encounters with citizens. In its settlement with the Albuquerque Police Department, the DOJ is requiring APD to develop body camera policies to ensure transparency and to regain the public’s trust.

But according to a story in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, at the same time it has been urging local police departments to use body cameras, the DOJ has been telling its agents that local officers that use body cameras can’t be part of joint federal and local task forces.

The reason, according to the article, is that “the federal government hasn’t yet adopted guidelines on how and when to use body cameras.”

“The rules would be important in determining how any footage could be used in court, released publicly or stored by law-enforcement agencies,” the newspaper reported.

It wasn’t immediately clear if APD officers, who are required to wear and use body cameras, have been barred from federal law enforcement task force teams. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque said she was checking to see if local police officers have been excluded from participating in federal and local task forces.

APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza wasn’t immediately available for comment.

One thing that is clear is that boy camera policies can be tricky. And police departments that don’t have clear policies will have trouble disciplining officers that fail to turn on their lapel cameras.

The City of Albuquerque’s Personnel Board voted on Tuesday to give former APD officer Jeremy Dear his job back. Dear, who had fatally shot a 19-year-suspected car thief in April 2014, was fired from APD last December. In dismissing Dear, APD Chief Gorden Eden cited his failure to turn on his lapel camera during his contacts with the public. There was no video from Dear’s camera of the fatal shooting of the suspected car thief, Mary Hawkes.

Dear appealed Eden’s decision, and during the hearing on his case, testimony showed that Dear was never given a written order that he record every encounter he had with members of the public. The testimony showed that it wasn’t clear that he had ever been given a written order, either. And, an APD official testified that the department had no guidelines as to what constituted compliance or noncompliance with its policy that officers record encounters with the public.

The issue of lapel camera policy surfaced earlier this month during a public meeting with James Ginger, the special monitor who is overseeing APD’s compliance efforts with the DOJ settlement agreement. The agreement requires APD to develop a policy regarding the use of body cameras. When asked if officers were complying that requirement, Ginger said that the policy hadn’t been written.

Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Sara MacNeil is an editorial intern at ABQ Free Press Weekly.

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