Two weeks after federal officials criticized its aggressive use of force, the Albuquerque Police Department tried but failed to retrieve video from the on-body camera of an officer who two days ago shot to death a woman suspected of stealing a car.
Police Chief Gorden Eden Jr. told reporters at a televised briefing Wednesday that the department has faced similar issues with the small body-mounted cameras and that this officer’s device has been sent to the manufacturer for further analysis. The manufacturer has turned up video in the past when the department’s tech experts could not, he said.
“We know the technology is not 100% fool-proof,” Eden said. “Any time you get into the technology realm, there are issues.”
Department policy requires the on-body cameras, typically mounted on shirt lapels, to be turned on during all interactions with the public. Police are increasingly turning to the technology to reassure the public about their actions and to help defend the department in lawsuits lodged against officers.
The lack of immediate video leaves the circumstances of the early Monday shooting in question in the eyes of skeptical residents who’ve protested what they regard as the department’s culture of lethal force. Since 2010, Albuquerque officers have shot 37 people, including three in the last five weeks. Twenty-three of the shooting victims have died.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently concluded that the city’s officers were too quick to resort to lethal force and unnecessarily put themselves in precarious situations. Federal and local officials are working on a plan to keep the department under watch and improve training for officers.
Eden said that in the Monday incident, Mary Hawkes, 19, drew a gun on officer Jeremy Dear as he pursued her near a trailer park.
At about 3 a.m., an unidentified officer had spotted Hawkes driving a pickup truck that had been reported stolen April 10. The officer lost sight of the truck as it made a turn, and by the time the officer caught up, Eden said, the truck had been abandoned. A search of her belongings in the car turned up Hawkes’ name.
The officer then searched her name, learning about her prior convictions for shoplifting and drinking in public, Eden said. A check of her prior addresses led the officer to the trailer park area, but Hawkes ran when the officer tried to talk to her.
Eden said Hawkes died at the scene, and police recovered a .32-caliber Davis Industries pistol next to her body. Eden did not know whether the gun was loaded.
Hawkes was the foster daughter of a retired county judge in New Mexico.
Eden said that police haven’t finished analyzing evidence and interviewing potential witnesses. The investigation in the shooting was slowed Tuesday by an unrelated homicide in the city, he said.
But the lack of an immediate visual recording of what Dear faced when he shot Hawkes is likely to stoke the ongoing concerns in Albuquerque. Hawkes was the first woman killed by officers in about 10 years.
Video from other officers near the shooting is being reviewed, but Eden said he didn’t know whether Dear’s was off or on.
“That’s why we send it to the experts,” he said, noting he had no idea when results might be returned. “They can make a determination for us.”
“There are consequences for not turning it on, which can include letter of reprimand to suspension,” Eden said. “I don’t want to try draw any conclusions on what will happen.”