It’s an announcement some community members have been waiting a long time to hear.
After a preliminary inquiry was initiated last year, Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, says his office has collected enough evidence to initiate an investigation into whether the Albuquerque Police Department perpetrates a pattern of federal law violations.
“In particular, the investigation will focus on the use of force by APD, including but not limited to, the use of deadly force,” Perez said. The investigation will move as quickly as possible, he added, and his office’s chief priorities are to be fair, independent and thorough. “We will peel the onion to its core and leave no stone unturned. We will follow the facts wherever the facts lead us,” he said.
Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Council, welcomed news of the investigation. “Areas that I hope they’ll also look at are diversity, the administration and the culture of the department,” Hall said.
Perez praised both Mayor Richard Berry and Chief of Police Ray Schultz for cooperating transparently with the preliminary review. Berry and Schultz emphasized they’ll continue to collaborate openly with federal investigators.
They also tried to put a positive spin on the announcement, saying they welcome any opportunity to improve the accountability and responsivity of APD. Berry said Albuquerque isn’t the only city with a police department subject to formal DOJ scrutiny.
“There have been 14 cities around the country that have gone through this recently,” he said. “I think policing is changing, and ... I’m proud of our police department. They’ve done a wonderful job at driving crime rates down. But if there’s things we need to fix, we’re not going to shy away.”
Berry said that more than 60 reforms the police department proactively enacted in the past year to training, policies and procedures have already made a difference.
He also defended his 2011 veto of a City Council request for the DOJ to investigate civil rights violations claims against the police department, saying he’d had concerns the legislation violated the Open Meetings Act.
“There are individual officers that are bad actors,” Schultz conceded, but added that rank-and-file officers themselves have been instrumental in indentifying areas for improvement. He said that he’s been aggressive about seeking out nationwide best practices to put into place here.
“I came back to this organization because I was confident knowing what the department’s capable of and what I can do for the city,” said Schultz, responding to a question about whether he’s still the right man for the job. “I could easily turn and run away. I’ve done 30 years. I’ve got my time in. But no, this to me is a challenge—to bring the department to the highest level possible.
Perez said his office is seeking feedback and information from community members about APD conduct. Citizens can email the DOJ investigative team at email@example.com or call a toll-free voicemail box in English or Spanish at (855) 544-5134.