- Associated Press - Thursday, November 9, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico lawmakers have begun drafting legislation that would restrict public access to video recordings from police lapel cameras of people with mental illnesses, in an effort to bolster privacy over personal medical conditions.

Presented to a panel of lawmakers on Thursday, a preliminary draft of the bill would add exemptions to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act to prevent or limit the release of audio, video and photographic recordings of people with a mental illness without consent.

Presenting the proposal, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said public availability of video recordings taken by police can discourage people from calling emergency services or interfere with the work of mental health crisis teams as frightened patients hold back information.

Taking up discussion of the bill, Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque cautioned that broadly written legislation might interfere with public oversight of police.

Video and audio from devices worn by officers have played a pivotal role in investigations of the use of force in the Albuquerque Police Department’s interactions with the mentally ill. Dines invoked the fatal 2014 shooting by Albuquerque police of a mentally-ill homeless man, James Boyd, that triggered public protests.

“This bill as it is drafted, it appears though that if the officer goes out in response to the brandishing of a dangerous weapon, this would also potentially cover that,” Dines said.

Two officers involved in the Boyd shooting were cleared of second-degree murder charges by prosecutors after a mistrial. Albuquerque police are involved in a yearslong reform effort brought on by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which found a pattern of excessive force.

Dines also said the initial proposal leaves out necessary definitions for mental illness when it comes to restricting public records.

Advocates for the legislation say police in Albuquerque alone respond to hundreds mental-health related calls a month - recording nearly every encounter.

Jim Ogle, a legislation specialist with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Mexico, said the intent is to ensure privacy to people with even mild mental illness difficulties, whose employment might be affected with the disclosure of their condition.

“What I’d like to see is that if the police are addressing a mental health crisis, as long as there is no crime committed … none of the tape is available” to the public, he said.

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