The killing in Albuquerque of Mary Hawkes, a troubled 19-year-old woman suspected of stealing a truck, should have been a case study in the value of police body cameras. The action was fast-moving, the decisions split-second. All of the surviving witnesses, including the shooter, were police officers wearing small video cameras on their uniforms, the Washington Post reports. Nearly three years after the shooting, it instead has become a cautionary tale about the potential of new technology to obscure rather than illuminate, especially in situations when police control what is recorded and shown to the public. Federal investigators are probing allegations that police tampered with video evidence in the case, underscoring broader questions about whether a nationwide rollout of body cameras is fulfilling promises of greater accountability.
“The video has become part of the story, as opposed to what it was perceived to be, as telling the story,” said Edward Harness, executive director of Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency. The clearest look at Hawkes’s final moments could have come from the shooter himself, Officer Jeremy Dear. His camera was not recording when he fired five shots at point-blank range, leaving Hawkes dying alongside a small handgun that Dear claimed she pointed at him just before he fired. Videos from three other officers who converged on the scene also missed the first, crucial moments. Video from a fourth camera was oddly blurred. A fifth and a sixth turned up nothing at all. The controversy highlights the possibility that massive deployments of body cameras, now used by nearly every major department, may be used selectively to bolster police accounts of incidents without providing the transparency expected by reform advocates.