The blame for the number of officer-involved shootings rests on bad parenting, schools, the mental health profession, courts, news media, jails and the unwillingness of the men shot to follow police orders, an APD commander said in an email to neighborhood leaders.
“It is absurd to blame the 23 officer-involved shootings on APD,” Foothills Area Commander Cliff Saylor wrote in an April 13 communication from his city email account.
Mike Gomez, whose son Alan was fatally shot by APD officer Sean Wallace last year, called the email “outrageous” and said reading it was “like getting salt poured on an open wound.”
“But then again, it’s just normal activity for APD,” Gomez said. “With all the negative things that are being exposed, what else can they do but try to blame someone — anyone — besides themselves?”
Saylor declined to comment on the email.
“The earliest I can discuss this matter is June 30,” he said without elaborating.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said the email came to his attention last week. Saylor, who is retiring in June, received “a verbal counseling” for inappropriate use of his city email account and for the comments themselves.
“Obviously we believe he had a lapse in judgment,” Schultz said. “These were completely his own opinions and, while I know he was frustrated, he should not have made these comments.”
Saylor’s email was in response to a letter from four City Council Democrats to Mayor Richard Berry in which the councilors called on the mayor to take action to restore trust in the police department, following two dozen officer-involved shootings since the beginning of 2010. Seventeen have been fatal.
Saylor’s email was sent before last week’s officer-involved shooting, which was the 24th for APD since January 2010.
The commander attached a copy of the letter and urged neighborhood leaders, whether they agreed or disagreed with the councilors’ position, to “let your voice be heard.”
“I am gravely concerned that these councilors are being influenced by a very vocal few, amplified by a very negative media,” Saylor wrote. “I am very concerned that these individuals have an over-represented impact on the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department.”
Councilor Ken Sanchez, one of the four who signed the letter to Berry, said Saylor’s email was out of line.
“I was shocked when I saw it,” Sanchez said Monday. “It was totally disingenuous and inappropriate. He blasted the families, criticized the city of Albuquerque’s schools, the criminal justice system and whatever else he could think of. And if he had a problem with our letter, he should have contacted us first.”
He also took exception to Berry’s response to the letter, in which the mayor accused the councilors of playing politics at the expense of rank-and-file police officers.
Sanchez said the councilors have a proven track record of supporting officers and pointed out that the letter simply asked Berry to address several black eyes APD has received during the past two years, including from the high number of police shootings.
“He said the four councilors lacked confidence in the rank and file,” Sanchez said. “That is not true, and our letter did not say that.”
Berry’s spokeswoman, Dayna Gardner, said Sanchez was trying to “backpedal” with his comments Monday.
“But the fact is, the mayor, the police officer’s union and most in our community see it for what it is — an attempt to degrade a very fine police department full of fine officers who go out and protect our community and our families on a daily basis,” Gardner said.
Berry has said repeatedly that his administration has been “proactive” in addressing the shootings, pointing to the city’s request in mid-2010 for a study of how the department deals with deadly force encounters by the Police Executive Research Forum, of which Schultz is a member.
About 50 recommendations from the study have been implemented. For example, APD now sends sergeants to potentially dangerous scenes in an effort to slow down fast moving situations.
The department also plans a philosophical shift with less paramilitary training and more communication and de-escalation training.
Schultz said the councilors’ email has stirred emotions across all ranks at APD.
Saylor took the letter as an attack on police officers themselves, Schultz said.
“And from an officer’s perspective, it does come across as saying that the officers themselves are responsible for these shootings,” Schultz said. “And from my perspective, knowing so many of the details about each one of these incidents, that isn’t the case.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal