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Department of Justice offers few answers

Julia Minamata

Last night, two lawyers from the U.S. Attorneys’ Office attended a meeting along with the family members of those who’ve been shot by the Albuquerque Police Department. But the lawyers were unable to offer any new information about a potential Department of Justice investigation, frustrating some members of the audience. “What are you here for then?” yelled one attendee.

Michael Hoses and Ruth Keegan represented the DOJ at the meeting, hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, which formed a task force to address this issue. Citizens have long been calling for the federal agency to investigate the city’s police force after a rash of officer-involved shootings. Since the spike in shootings, people have been calling for changes to APD’s training policies. Concerns also arose about widespread corruption, racial profiling and a “blue code” that prevents officers from speaking up about problems on the force.

Questions from the crowd included:

• What are the criteria and processes for the DOJ in deciding whether to probe APD?

• Could civil rights violations be prosecuted criminally?

• Could APD officers be prosecuted criminally?

• When would the DOJ decide whether to embark upon an investigation?

• Had the federal agency taken an interest in APD before citizens began asking about it?

Hoses said he and his colleague were invited to attend the meeting as observers and did not intend to answer questions about their operation.

In early August, the City Council asked for the federal agency to intervene, a move that was vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry. Councilors failed to override the veto about a month later.

There have been 20 shootings in as many months. Between 1997 and 2005, there were 56 shootings, according to numbers presented by Nicol Moreland, a researcher at the meeting. The numbers are comparable to those in New York City, said Moreland.

During her presentation, Moreland pointed to a pattern that cycles in Albuquerque every few years: First, there’s a spike in APD killings. Friends and family members of those who’ve died begin to call for change. The city government pays for a study of the department. Researchers make recommendations, which are mostly ignored. And then the cycle restarts.