Legislature 2020 Special Session

Policing measure passes; special session closes

By Robert Nott
rnott@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 6/24/20

Amid calls for increased scrutiny of law enforcement, the House of Representatives voted 44-26 on Monday (June 22) to approve a measure that would require all …

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Legislature 2020 Special Session

Policing measure passes; special session closes

Posted

Amid calls for increased scrutiny of law enforcement, the House of Representatives voted 44-26 on Monday (June 22) to approve a measure that would require all New Mexico police officers to wear body cameras.

The legislation, passed by the House two days after the state Senate concluded its business and departed a special session focused on shoring up the state budget, now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's desk.

Lujan Grisham praised the work of the Legislature during the special session but noted it is only the start as New Mexico looks to the 60-day session in January amid a severe economic downturn brought on by falling oil prices and the COVID-19 crisis.

"Let me be clear: The work of rebuilding our state economy has only begun," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "But we will, I have no doubt, construct a more robust and inclusive economy than ever before as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with everything we've got.

"And the work we've begun on civil rights and public safety reform and election accessibility and small business relief will remain a chief priority of my administration," she added.

House Republicans, badly outnumbered, took a dim view on the results of the session.

"The only positive outcome in this session was the Republican-led effort to fix the looming unemployment insurance tax increases due to increased unemployment claims," the House Republican caucus said in a statement issued after the conclusion of the session. "Together the Republicans, with grassroots activists, produced an amazing effort in support of New Mexico small businesses and forced lawmakers to seriously address the ramifications following the Governor's forced economic shutdown."

Public safety reform and help for small business were the order of business in the House on Monday.

Senate Bill 8 also would revoke a police officer's certification if he or she is found guilty or pleads guilty or no contest to the unlawful use or threatened use of force in the line of duty.

A police officer could also have his or her certification revoked if an officer fails to intervene in a police action involving the unlawful use of force.

The bill, which requires each police agency to come up with its own policies regarding these mandates, comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. His death has spurred a nationwide call for more scrutiny and reform programs for law enforcement agencies.

House Democrats praised the bill as a necessary step in ensuring accountability within New Mexico's police agencies – particularly in a state that has had the highest per capita rate of people killed by police officers over the past five years, according to two separate national reports.

Those reports said from 2015-19, between 101 and 107 New Mexicans were killed by police, a rate of 9.7 to 10.2 per million residents, while the national rate of individuals killed by police ranged from 3 to 3.4 per million residents, according to the Legislative Finance Committee's analysis of the bill.

"Our communities have a right to remain safe ... should they have to interact with a law enforcement officer," said Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, who presented the bill on the House floor.

She said body cameras will help ensure those citizens "walk away from that engagement alive. ... We have our own stories about encounters that go wrong and have ended with death."

Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill did not argue that point. Instead, they focused their criticism on the speed with which Democrat legislators pushed the bill through in a four-day special session and the fact that the bill has no financial appropriation tied to it.

As such, they said the counties, cities and municipalities that do not currently use body cameras will have to find money to fund the new law within 90 days, as per the bill.

The Legislative Finance Committee analysis of the bill says each body camera would cost about $795 and the legislation, if signed, could lead to "significant additional costs" for law enforcement departments.

Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said the legislation is "just too heavy a lift in a special session. This bill is being perceived by the public as being rushed through, last minute."

He said the cost for many police departments will be deemed "an unfunded mandate."

Even as more law enforcement agencies around the country require their officers to wear body cameras, a recent George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy report says it's too soon to tell if they make much of a difference in how officers act.

Those analysts reviewed 70 studies of body cameras used through June 2018 and found "cameras reduced the number of overall complaints against officers, but their impacts on other police behaviors are less conclusive."

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