Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Albuquerque Police Department has become the object of increasing scrutiny ever since the DOJ issued a report on the joint investigation by the department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico into the police's use of force during arrests. The report found that police conduct evidenced “a pattern and practice of the use of excessive force, including deadly force.” According to the report, the police have been involved in 39 deadly shootings since 2010. It further states:
We found only a few instances in the incidents we reviewed where supervisors scrutinized officers’ use of force and sought additional investigation. In nearly all cases, supervisors endorsed officers’ version of events, even when officers’ accounts were incomplete, were inconsistent with other evidence, or were based on canned or repetitive language. The department has also failed to implement its force policies consistently, including requirements that officers properly document their use of force, whether by lapel cameras, audio tapes, or in reports. The department does not use other internal review systems, such as internal affairs and the early intervention system, effectively. These internal accountability and policy failures combine with the department’s inadequate training to contribute to uses of excessive force. Additionally, serious limitations in the City’s external oversight processes have allowed many of these deficiencies to continue unabated.
As a result of the department’s inadequate accountability systems, the department often endorses questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers. The prior criminal history and background of individuals who are the subject of police force also typically receive greater scrutiny than the actions of officers. These practices breed resentment in the community and promote an institutional disregard for constitutional policing.
The Albuquerque police recently have been involved in three deadly shootings that have made an already tense situation even worse.
First, police killed a homeless man (see for video of the incident) armed with only a knife. The altercation arose after police confronted the man for camping illegally, and video of the incident appears to show police firing several bullets into the man’s back as he turned away from them. They then fired several ‘non-lethal’ bullets at the limp body, raising the obvious question as to the necessity of using live ammunition in the first place.
Last month, police killed a 19-year-old woman suspected of auto theft after a prolonged pursuit on foot. The police allege the incident ended when the suspect turned and pointed a gun at the officer chasing her, who then shot her in self-defense.
Then, last weekend, an hours-long standoff between police and a man allegedly holed up inside his home resulted in a third shooting. According to police, the suspect emerged from his home firing two handguns, and an officer on the scene returned fire. The suspect was pronounced dead on the scene.
Unsurprisingly, the recent shootings coupled with the critical DOJ report have exacerbated the already tenuous relationship between police and many of city’s residents. On Monday, protesters attempted a citizen’s arrest of the sitting police chief. As the AP reports:
As the threat of another tense standoff at an Albuquerque city council meeting brews, protesters angry over a series of police shootings are harkening back to the city's long history of civil disturbance and modeling their demonstrations after those including a notorious 1960s citizen raid of a northern New Mexico courthouse.
In 1967, protesters contending the US government stole millions of acres of land from Mexican American residents stormed a courthouse to attempt a citizen's arrest of the district attorney. During the raid, the group shot and wounded a state police officer and jailer, beat a deputy and took the sheriff and a reporter hostage.
Now a leader of this week's protest cited that episode as the motivation for the city council demonstration in which protesters attempted a citizen's arrest of the police chief
"That's where we got the idea for the citizen's arrest," said David Correia, a University of New Mexico American studies professor and a protest organizer. He wasn't advocating violence, but a focus on civil disobedience, saying participants were willing to be arrested.
It's an interesting turn of events in Albuquerque, where distrust of the police department is at an all-time high after an officer shot and killed an armed man following a weekend Swat standoff. Police in the city of 550,000 people have been involved in 39 shootings since 2010 and are under tough scrutiny following a harsh report from the US Justice Department over use of force.