The issue of when to activate body cameras had polarized the Albuquerque department in the years since it began experimenting with the devices in 2010. A 2016 report by outside researchers found that officers were uncertain about the rules and came to believe that every encounter with a civilian was supposed to be recorded, even as the actual policy shifted to give officers leeway in cases that were unlikely to lead to arrests or use of force.
Although officers appreciated the ability of video to quickly resolve groundless citizen complaints, police grumbled about activating devices during dangerous, fast-moving situations. They also worried about the privacy rights of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Similar issues have emerged nationwide.
“This is still a relatively new technology that’s suffering from growing pains,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington. There are debates, he said, over what gets recorded, how the resulting footage gets handled and who ultimately gets to view it — creating new dilemmas for departments.
Since Dear’s graduation from the police academy in 2008, he had numerous citizen complaints. He also often failed to activate his body camera and, according to department officials, had been ordered to record every contact with civilians — a directive that was more stringent than the policy applied to other officers. A review after the Hawkes shooting, the family’s attorneys said, showed he had failed to record civilian contact more than 200 times.
Dear was later fired for insubordination for this repeated failure to use his camera — not for the Hawkes shooting itself — but a personnel review board eventually ordered that he be reinstated. The case remains unresolved because of a court appeal.
One of Dear’s attorneys, Thomas Grover, himself a former Albuquerque police officer, disputes that Dear was ever ordered to record every civilian contact and also argues that the shooting was a “garden-variety use of force” overblown by the Hawkes family’s attorneys. (Another of Dear’s attorneys, representing him in the civil suit by the Hawkes family, did not respond to a request for comment.)
Grover said the rollout of the body cameras in Albuquerque has been fraught with problems, including balky devices, poor battery life, misunderstandings over policy and a failure to manage public expectations of what the cameras could capture.
“If you could exemplify the problems with an emerging new technology, this is it,” Grover said. “There was no foresight.”
Ives, the Hawkes family attorney, is also critical of the department, which she contends has intentionally edited, deleted or disposed of key video evidence, undermining the possibility for a full public accounting of fatal shootings and other incidents.
“The camera issue is depressing in many ways,” Ives said. “Now we are coming to understand that these systems can be manipulated, and it can be easier to convince the public of whatever they [the police] want them to think because there’s a bit of video.”
The Justice Department, in a scathing review of the Albuquerque department’s training, policies and unusually high rate of fatal shootings, singled out its handling of body cameras as inadequate, aimed more at “placating public criticism” than addressing systemic failures.
That report, which later caused the city to sign a consent decree accepting four years of federal monitoring of its police, was released April 10, 2014.
Eleven days later, Hawkes was killed.
Request for police video
Hawkes’s parents, both of whom had worked in law enforcement, were initially reluctant to challenge official accounts of her death, especially given the recovery of a gun and reports that she pointed it at a police officer. The coroner’s report also suggested that Hawkes had taken methamphetamine in the hours before she was shot. A “high concentration” of the drug turned up in her blood.
The turning point came when Hawkes’s sister, Angela Hawkes, and her parents, Mary Alice and Danny Hawkes, visited the site of the shooting. There, they said, they examined the bullet marks that seemed oddly spread out for an exchange of gunfire in which both shooter and victim were supposedly facing each other from a few feet away.
“Anybody could see she was running away,” Mary Alice Hawkes said.
The family soon hired lawyers and began requesting police reports and videos.
The video that did emerge from the shooting raised more questions than it answered. One clip, from an officer who was speeding up to the scene in a patrol car, shows Dear standing with his gun pointed at Hawkes as she lay on the sidewalk. Faint flashes suggest that this clip captured some of the shots but not what caused Dear to fire.
That video also showed at least two other officers nearby. But useful footage did not turn up on either of their cameras.
The affidavit by Chavez, the department’s former custodian of public records, alleges that police officials had several ways to keep video they considered “problematic” away from the public. In one controversial case, Chavez said he heard a top official say of one camera’s memory card, “We can make this disappear.”
Chavez also said the department’s system for managing video, the widely used Evidence.com from Taser, offered the ability to edit or delete footage, though the system produced usage logs that could be audited later. Taser, a leading manufacturer of police body cameras and electroshock weapons, declined to comment for this report.
Although Chavez did not claim direct knowledge of what happened to video in the Hawkes case, he said in his affidavit that it appeared as though the blurred footage resulted from a function allowing changes to the resolution. A second video also showed signs of intentional blurring, and a third appeared to be missing as much as 20 seconds that, Chavez said, probably were deleted. He has publicly alleged that he was fired after registering concern that such tactics violated the law.
While the department did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Post, it issued a statement to news organizations in November that said: “The city questions the motives and disputes the accuracy of the information relayed by Mr. Chavez. The city stands prepared to defend against these allegations that records or evidence have been compromised.”
Shaun Willoughby, the Albuquerque police union president, said none of the officers acted improperly. The expectations of what body cameras can show have outstripped the reality of the technology.
“I literally tell people, ‘Buy a drone,’ ” with a camera mounted on board, Willoughby said. “Let them follow every cop.”
But the family’s attorneys say the problem is an old-fashioned coverup using high-tech means.
In recent weeks, the attorneys for the family discovered yet another curious fact about the videos produced the morning of the shooting. Dear and a fellow officer both had videos taken by their body cameras between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., not long from when the police inquiry into the stolen truck was beginning.
When these videos were uploaded to the department’s computer system, they did not include an evidence ID number linking them to the Hawkes investigation, which meant they weren’t initially turned over to the family when their attorneys requested the relevant records.