The Albuquerque Police Department has not instituted any special de-escalation training due to the the high number of officer-involved shootings this year. The Tuesday, Sept. 14 shooting in Downtown Albuquerque was No. 11. In 2009, there were only six.
Lt. Ray Torres, director of training at the police academy, says the spike in shootings is not the result of an education problem. If it was determined that officers couldn't identify targets properly, for example, that might be the kind of thing that would require additional drills. "To date, with the shootings we've had this year, I have not heard of any training issues that have been identified so far."
“To be honest with you, you're making a split-second decision, you're under stress.”
Lt. Ray Torres, director of training for APD
Torres has been at the academy for about a month. Before that, he was a traffic lieutenant. He says he knows the public perception is that there have been a lot of shootings. "We're not going out there and shooting random people," he says. "Something has happened in each case to make us take that action."
The academy works with cadets and provides advanced training for veteran officers. The curriculum includes the use of firearms, updates on law and how to deal with the mentally ill. The force uses what's called a "reactive control model," Torres says. "We teach you to go in phases, and what you should do at different phases. Should you use lethal force? Should you use less-than-lethal force?”
But, he says, you have to look at the situation. If the officer is by himself, choosing a less-than-lethal option might not be a good decision. "What if it doesn't work and the individual has a firearm or a knife? You shoot them with the Taser, but they've already closed the distance, and now you don't have your gun out."
He says it's easy to "Monday morning quarterback" an officer-involved shooting when a civilian’s had all the time in the world to think about how a scenario should have been handled. "To be honest with you, you're making a split-second decision, you're under stress," he says. "And you'd like to think you're well versed to handle the situation, but sometimes you have to make a decision in seconds. You've got to do what you've got to do, and you rely on your training."
Every person perceives threat differently, he says, including officers. "You can't textbook it.”
No one wants to take a life, he adds. "People just think, Hey, we just shot the guy because we wanted to. That's a traumatic event that someone who's been involved in a critical incident like that has to live with the rest of their lives."
This week, the Alibi spoke with citizens who are forming a copwatch, a group that intends to watch and record police interactions with the public. Lt. Torres answered questions about the training APD receives regarding observers.
Cadets go through a segment on the law that includes info on civil rights violations, arrest procedures and the rights of onlookers, Torres says. If there's an incident like the one in May 2008 when a KOB cameraman was thrown into the back of a police car, refreshers on the material will be given during the daily meetings at precincts. (That KOB matter also spurred a policy change for the department.)
As a former traffic lieutenant, Torres has shooed onlookers away from the grisly scenes of fatalities. "I think people just want to be the first one to put it on YouTube," he says. "You have to remember, especially with fatalities, that someone has died. You don't want to see your loved one on there."