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Editorial: Openness is best policy for APD shooting cases

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As a yearlong investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into a string of officer-involved shootings dating from 2010 appears to be reaching the end of its fact-finding phase, the Albuquerque Police Department is keeping a tighter lid on information about a new spate of such shootings.

It’s a wrongheaded shift in APD practice that will do little to inspire public confidence and trust.

The department hasn’t coughed up 911 calls, lapel camera videos or other documents relating to the recent shootings. Since October, the Journal has made nine requests under the state Inspection of Public Records Act for records relating to them.

Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy has said APD is withholding some records temporarily to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations. One request remains “under review” for unspecified reasons. In another case, the department has said it’s unclear whether an officer’s lapel camera video was ever tagged into evidence, although APD interim chief Allen Banks showed a still from it during a news conference.

Public agencies must produce requested records, which include documents, audio tapes and video, unless they are exempt from disclosure under a specific exemption to the state Inspection of Public Records Act. IPRA does provide an exception for law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources, methods, information or individuals accused but not charged with a crime.

However, Greg Williams of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says there is no exemption for ongoing investigations: “Just because an investigation is going doesn’t mean any piece of paper touching that investigation is exempted from IPRA.”

Hunkering down behind a shield of “ongoing investigations” is an ill-advised policy and certainly doesn’t invite confidence in a community where many citizens have become jaded about their police department.

APD and the city attorney’s office should re-evaluate what looks like a decision to close ranks. For the benefit of the public, and for their own good.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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