4 Investigates: Body camera blind spot 

4 Investigates: Body camera blind spot

Law enforcement agencies across the state began hooking up officers to body-worn cameras after a 2020 law required them. However, one group of law enforcement officers never adopted them.

Law enforcement agencies across the state began hooking up officers to body-worn cameras after a 2020 law required them. However, one group of law enforcement officers never adopted them. 

“We didn’t see the need,” University of New Mexico Police Chief Joe Silva said. 

He points to definitions in the law that defines “law enforcement agency” as a “police department of municipality, the sheriff’s office of a county, the New Mexico state police or the department of public safety.” 

Educational police departments are excluded. However, not by design. 

“I was surprised to hear that UNM was resisting what I think is an important tool,” State Sen. Joseph Cervantes said. “I’m disappointed as a UNM graduate.” 

Cervantes sponsored the 2020 legislation. He said he was motivated by former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ opposition to body-worn cameras to mandate them for law enforcement. 

As for leaving out educational law enforcement? 

“Entirely an oversight,” Cervantes said. “There was certainly no thinking that it would be good for university police to not hold themselves to the same standard that all other law enforcement do in the state.” 

Most university police departments in the state voluntarily wear body cameras. 

New Mexico State University, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Highlands University all have their police officers. 

Western New Mexico University is the only other university that does not wear them. 

However, UNM’s footprint is far bigger. 

47 UNM police officers patrol all UNM buildings including satellite locations in Valencia County and Gallup. Joe Silva, UNM’s police chief, says they respond to more than 30,000 calls for service. 

Jail records 4 Investigates dug up shows UNM Police was the arresting agency 138 times in 2023.  

Silva’s title includes director of University Security and comes with a $184,514 salary. That’s more than the police chiefs for the New Mexico State Police or the cities of Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, or Santa Fe. 

In recent years, there have been high-profile incidents in and around campus. 

It was a UNM police officer who first interacted with an infamous cold case serial killer

In 2022, an NMSU basketball player shot and killed a UNM student after an ambush attack. Surveillance video captured the shooting

Silva said the network of more than 3,000 surveillance cameras around campus keeps the UNM community safe. 

A University of New Mexico spokesperson said there were 25 use-of-force reports with UNM PD in 2023, two of them required a taser, and there have been no citizen complaints in that timeframe. 

4 Investigates asked Silva if there could be a difference between what’s legally required and what might be considered a best practice. 

“Could be,” Silva said. “When you look at the research of body-worn cameras there is no conclusive finding that they do what they’re supposed to do.” 

Oddly enough, in a building on campus that overlooks the UNM Police Department without body cameras, is an ongoing study about the effects of body cameras on police officers

“That’s where our study comes in,” UNM professor Daniel Ravid said. “When used well. And that’s what we’re trying to research, the best ways to use body-worn cameras. It does seem that there are a lot of benefits to implementing body-worn cameras.” 

Some do not need to wait for another study. 

“I’m very confident that if UNM doesn’t do this voluntarily in the next few months the legislature is going to compel it of them in the next session,” Cervantes said. “I’m certain of that.