Police on Police
Law enforcement think tank weighs in on APD’s shootings
A 91-page report spurred by the Albuquerque Police Department's spate of shootings was released on Friday, June 24. Among the findings: Violent crime and assaults on officers decreased over the last few years, but the number officer-involved shootings went up. The report also shows that the same officers are repeatedly involved in violent incidents, with 22 percent having a hand in 60 percent of such encounters.
When the report was submitted to the city, there had been 41 officer-involved shootings since 2006, resulting in 22 deaths. Then on Sunday, June 26, another man was shot by APD. Police say he attacked them with a bayonet. As of press time, he was in stable condition.
Families have been rallying at the last few City Council meetings, calling for city politicians to do something to address the shootings. One such protester was Mike Gomez, whose son, Alan Gomez, was shot and killed by APD earlier this year. “A police force working for a city is supposed to protect and serve,” Mike Gomez said. “Citizens count on them to help—but not in Albuquerque. Here, citizens are afraid to call 911 because of APD’s shoot-to-kill policies,” [Council Watch, " Families Stand Against APD Shootings," June 9-15]. The Council voted to put up $16,000 for yet another independent review of the department, totally separate from the report released Friday.
Friday’s study was conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank of law enforcement officials from around the country. The group made 39 recommendations and writes in the report that no single change will have a dramatic impact. Instead, if all suggestions are adopted, Albuquerque should see a reduction in officer-involved shootings.
The group advises that APD accept all citizen complaints—even those made anonymously. As it stands, the process of submitting complaints may be intimidating or discouraging since signatures are required.
The department should also recruit people who seem to be good problem-solvers, de-escalators and listeners, according to the report. "Intensified efforts to find applicants who already appear to have skills in calming and defusing situations, rather than escalating them, would benefit the department.”
Police rarely used Tasers in the officer-involved shooting incidents that were studied. In late May, Police Chief Ray Schultz issued an order that all officers carry Tasers. Before that, they were optional.
The think tank was pleased with APD's Crisis Intervention Team certification and recommended it be expanded. The team is made up of about 125 officers who have received additional training to handle people with mental illness. More than half of the people shot by officers had a history of mental illness, according to the report.
Better crisis training is exactly what Jonelle Ellis was calling for in January when she helped submit legislation to the Roundhouse [News, " An Army of One," Jan. 13-19]. Her brother, a 25-year-old Iraq War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was shot and killed by APD a year earlier. According to Lt. Ray Torres, director of training at Albuquerque's police academy, an average recruit spends about 30 of 900 total training hours on crisis intervention and de-escalation [News, " Is There a Silver Bullet?," Oct. 7-13, 2010]
APD should also collect better data about violent incidents, according to the study. The form used to report violent incidents doesn't make a distinction between situations where there was no weapon involved and situations where the officer just didn't mention a weapon.
Every employee of APD will be required to review the findings.
Police Executive Research Forum's review of APD shootings