Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said Friday his department will make dozens of policy changes prescribed by a think tank that spent months studying a spike in the number of officer-involved shootings.
The long-awaited study by Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum provides APD with 40 recommendations regarding use of force but also praises some department practices, including its crisis intervention training.
The 90-page report was released Friday.
Among the recommendations were suggestions that 911 operators be trained to provide crisis intervention, that the department hire more officers with “calm demeanors” and that the department accept anonymous complaints from citizens.
“PERF provided exactly what we were looking for,” Public Safety Director Darren White said at a news conference. “We take the study very seriously and have taken steps already to implement some of the recommendations.”
Mayor Richard J. Berry ordered the study last summer after officer-involved shootings began to spike. At the time, there had been 10 shootings, but, by the end of the year, there would be 14, nine of which were fatal. There have been four officer-involved shootings this year, all fatal, and community leaders and family of those killed have been outspokenly critical of APD.
Others have been critical, too. State District Judge Theresa Baca earlier this month awarded the family of 19-year-old Andrew Lopez more than $4.25 million in their wrongful death lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department. Lopez was killed by police in 2009.
In her ruling, Baca referred to the department’s training methods as “designed to result in the unreasonable use of deadly force.”
Police have defended this and last year’s shootings, saying officers were responding to dangerous situations and had to act quickly to defend their lives or those of other people.
Officials said that, although the recommendations in the report provide valuable insight, none will lead to drastic changes.
PERF, a national organization comprised of police executives, examined five aspects of use of force and assaults on officers. The study analyzed the department’s training, policies, and review and investigation process. Analysts also conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed boxes full of reports.
“Overall, the APD does a commendable job of bringing together in its academy training curriculum the areas of instruction needed to prepare new officers for incidents in which they must assess threats and handle potentially dangerous situations peaceably when possible and with the least amount of force that is appropriate when force is necessary,” the study says.
But the report points out a lack of correlation between assaults on officers and officer-involved shootings, which the chief had often cited as one factor in the spike in shootings.
Another factor police have said has resulted in so many shootings is the state of mental health in the city. Many of PERF’S recommendations addressed that.
Among the PERF recommendations, which Schultz said the department will implement:
♦ Training on use of force should focus less on the “reactive control model.” The reactive control model, in simple terms, offers a guide for which situations merit which types of force. For example, it mandates that an officer encountering a person armed with a deadly weapon, which could be a knife or a gun, also use a deadly weapon.
Analysts didn’t recommend a specific model, but proposed the department examine various methods used around the country.
♦ All 911 operators should be trained in crisis intervention and on how to determine if a caller could be mentally ill.
Schultz said this is one of the more significant changes and could be truly helpful when officers have to respond to situations involving the mentally ill. Many of the 18 men who have been shot by police since January 2010 have been mentally ill.
♦ Although 25 percent of APD personnel have Crisis Intervention Team certification, which PERF calls “an important and impressive accomplishment,” the department should expand the training and have more frequent refresher courses. CIT training teaches officers to defuse situations and talk people down from heightened emotions.
♦ The department needs to improve its reporting on use of force incidents. In analyzing reports, researchers found officers often left out crucial information, such as whether there a weapon was involved.
♦ The department should start accepting anonymous complaints from citizens. Researchers say many citizens may not fill out complaints for fear of retribution.
♦ The city’s Independent Review Officer will now respond to all officer-involved shootings and participate in any briefings. The IRO reviews shootings after police have conducted their initial investigation.
“It’s important for them to have that unrestricted access,” White said.
♦ Officers involved in shootings will be evaluated by more than just the police psychologist before he or she is allowed back at work. A full board will review the officer, and if they determine the officer isn’t ready to return, they could prescribe more administrative leave than the standard three days.
♦ The department’s hiring process should be revamped to place a greater emphasis on hiring officers with good problem-solving skills and “calm demeanors.” Schultz said this recommendations was one of the most striking. “Obviously, (it will be) quite a challenge for us,” he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal