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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
APD Shootings: No Easy Answers
By Astrid Galvan
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque police have often cited an increase in assaults on officers as a primary reason for the spike in officer-involved shootings over the past 16 months.
It is true that assaults on officers increased significantly between 2009 and 2010 — by about 61 percent. But a Journal review of police data for the last decade shows no consistent correlation between assaults on officers and officer-involved shootings.
In some years, assaults on officers went up dramatically without any increase in police shootings. For example, from 2004 to 2005, there was a 56 percent spike in assaults on officers but no change in the number of shootings from the year before (six). And, then, in 2006, assaults fell by about 21 percent, and there were nine officer-involved shootings.
During the decade, 2005 saw the most assaults on officers: 368. Officers shot six people that year. But officers also shot six people in 2009, which had the lowest number of assaults on officers during the period.
According to the data, a majority of the assaults on officers involved physical attacks by people without weapons.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said Monday that he believes the dramatic jump in assaults on officers between 2009 and 2010 is a contributing factor in the recent increase in shootings. Schultz has also said that police officers have been faced with life-threatening situations that escalated quickly, and he said there are other factors, as well.
"The other problem we're having is, because of the economy, one of the first areas to suffer is mental health and support for the mental health system. Mental health is very, very expensive," Schultz said. Schultz said his officers are encountering more and more people with mental health issues who are not receiving any help or medication.
"When you look at most of the (recent) shootings, the person has been in crisis. That's not a law enforcement solution, that's a community solution," he said.
Mental health appears to have been a factor in the most recent shooting, that of 27-year-old Christopher Torres, son of Bernalillo County deputy manager Renetta Torres. Torres was shot and killed by officers attempting to serve an arrest warrant on him at his family's West Side home last week after a struggle with police, during which Torres managed to grab the pistol of one of the detectives.
Torres, who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was wanted in a Feb. 17 road rage incident.
He was the second person fatally shot by police this year.
The 14 shootings last year — nine of them fatal — have been highly scrutinized by the public. Some 75 people protested at APD headquarters at one point, and eventually Mayor Richard J. Berry ordered a research report to evaluate the police shootings and investigate why officers were being attacked so often. The Police Executive Research Forum is expected to wrap up its investigation in May, Schultz said. He said the evaluation will provide additional insight.
The administration also announced last week that it would require all officers to get an additional eight hours of training on deadly force situations.
Public safety director Darren White said that the extra training would be a "refresher" of classes officers already take in the police academy and that, although the proposal is in response to the spike in shootings, it was not indicative of any unjustifiable actions. APD maintains that all of shootings this year and last year were justified.
So far, grand juries have cleared officers in at least three of last year's officer-involved shootings. The city's Independent Review Officer, whose job it is to investigate complaints against police and officer-involved shootings independently of the police department, found one shooting to have lacked merit.
However, the Police Oversight Commission, a citizen panel, rejected the IRO's findings and sided with APD, which maintains that Detective Bret Lampiris-Tremba was justified when he shot and killed Kenneth Ellis III on Jan. 13, 2010, after a minuteslong standoff outside a convenience store at Eubank and Constitution.
Both a Bernalillo County grand jury and APD internal affairs have cleared Lampiris-Tremba.