Sheriff’s department to upgrade body-cameras to meet new state mandates

by Debora Nicoll | May 18, 2021
5 min read
Source: Visual Labs

Last fall a law went into effect in New Mexico requiring law enforcement officers to wear and activate body cameras during all encounters with the public and to safeguard the resulting footage should it be needed as evidence. Last week the Sierra County Sheriff’s department asked the county commission for a 2021-2022 budget allocation to upgrade its existing body-camera equipment and hire a clerk to process the digital data.

Senate Bill 8, titled “Law Enforcement Body Cameras,” was passed during the New Mexico Legislature’s 2020 special session and signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the growing number of documented cases of law enforcement civil rights violations in the United States. The bill requires the activation of body-worn cameras when officers respond to calls and prohibits deactivation until the conclusion of an encounter. Footage of all encounters must also be maintained for a minimum of 120 days. The law went into effect in September 2020.

Officers who fail to wear a camera or manipulate or erase the audiovisual data are to be disciplined. Officers who fail to comply are “presumed to have acted in bad faith and shall be deemed liable for the independent tort of negligent spoliation of evidence or the independent tort of intentional spoliation of evidence.”

Interviewed by the Sun, Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton raised several concerns about the new requirements. There is no provision for equipment failure; the law presumes that the officer is to blame if there is missing footage. Another problem is that the law provides no funding to help departments pay for the needed equipment, supplies and data management.

Hamilton had implemented body-camera requirements after taking office in 2015. According to Hamilton, those cameras have proved problematic, occasionally failing to record, posting incorrect time stamps and losing battery power during patrols. In light of the new law’s stringent requirements, the sheriff’s department had requested budgetary approval to purchase a newer system of smartphone cameras called FirstNet, built and operated by AT&T.

FirstNet is now being utilized by Bernallilo and Valencia counties, among other New Mexico jurisdictions, Hamilton explained. He spoke with his Valencia County counterpart about the system and was told they had experienced no problems with it during the seven or eight months it had been in use. 

FirstNet supplies the smartphones for $1 each and charges $54 per month per phone. The Sierra County Sheriff employs 11 patrol officers, bringing total monthly fees to about $600. There is also a recurring annual fee of $13,600 to use the system, which will be covered by monies from the state Law Enforcement Fund, according to Hamilton.

FirstNet cameras come with software that automatically uploads footage to cloud storage. But the sheriff’s department must manually review the audiovisual data and identify footage from encounters that may be needed as evidence of crimes or officer misconduct. The 120-day minimum storage requirement is the time limitation for a citizen to file a complaint against an officer, according to Hamilton. Footage that does not contain criminal evidence or has not been requested by a complainant can be erased after 120 days.

The FirstNet system, unlike the old system, allows for footage to be redacted to protect innocent bystanders and victims before it is turned over in fulfillment of Inspection of Public Records requests. Hamilton said that the increase in IPRAs he had expected would accompany the enactment of the new body camera requirements has not materialized. 

In addition to incurring new equipment and software costs, Hamilton proposed in his budget presentation to the commissions that the department hire a full-time clerk to oversee the footage for which it is now legally accountable. The department has accumulated nine months of visual evidence since the body-camera law was enacted that must be processed. At the rate that new footage is being produced, Hamilton said the department would soon have a “room full of servers” if a full-time clerk were not hired to deal with the backlog and inventory new footage on daily basis.

Once these operational imperatives have been accomplished, Hamilton envisioned that the clerk would be able to take on management of the department’s physical evidence room, which is currently overseen by a deputy sheriff in addition to his regular duties.

At their May 11 budget workshop, the Sierra County Commissioners expressed doubt that the county could afford a new clerk’s full-time salary and benefits. They preferred to keep a tight rein on 2021-2022 budget in case the county faced unforeseen expenses associated with the renovation of its new administration building. They also cited the need to await the results of a pay study that will determine the compensation rates Sierra County should pay its employees to remain competitive. The county must also provide annual raises to its minimum-wage employees due to the increases in New Mexico’s minimum wage rates that began this year and will continue through 2023.

While pointing out that the clerk would have to be paid more than the minimum wage, Hamilton agreed with the commission that the position could be part time. The alternative, he told the Sun, was to risk a “large-scale revolt” if he were to ask each of his deputies to go through the footage themselves after every patrol. 

The department, he added, had nearly seen a “mass exodus” in 2020, when the deputies learned that there would be no raises that year because of the county commission’s decision to spend $1.7 million to purchase the vacant Amin’s furniture store on Date Street for its consolidated administrative headquarters.

Because the department was already experiencing a steady loss of deputies to other jobs, Hamilton told the Sun he did a pay comparison with some of the agencies that had been hiring them and determined that a pay increase was necessary to remain competitive. With no monies for raises forthcoming last year, Hamilton’s solution was to utilize funds for two unfilled positions that had been allocated in the department’s budget to increase the deputies’ pay.

Currently, a starting deputy earns $19 per hour. The county’s total expenditure per deputy is about $90,000.


Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

Share this:

Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

Scroll to Top