ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City leaders on Monday announced more changes they hope will slow the rate of shootings by the Albuquerque Police Department, including one that limits the department’s role in out-of-jurisdiction incidents.
APD officers have shot 24 people since 2010, 17 fatally, and the most recent change in policy is a direct response to two of those, officials said.
In October 2010, APD SWAT officers were asked to assist in a standoff with a barricaded suspect in Tucumcari. As the incident stretched into its sixth hour, APD officer Ramon Ornelas fatally shot 56-year-old Daniel Gonzales, who had been involved in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend.
And in March, another Albuquerque SWAT officer, Russ Carter, shot and killed Gary Atencio, who had led police on a high-speed pursuit after firing shots of his own at his wife near a West Side hospital in Albuquerque. The pursuit ended when Atencio crashed his car on Interstate 40 near Grants, then led police on a foot chase before Carter shot him in an open field.
In both instances, officials said, APD had assumed a lead role essentially by default.
So Police Chief Ray Schultz has decided to institute a policy that would limit his officers to a “support role only” for incidents outside Albuquerque – unless there is an “immediate threat.”
That’s not to say APD officers won’t continue to respond to requests to assist other law enforcement agencies, as they often are, the chief said.
“But we want everyone to know what their roles are,” he said. “If it’s a SWAT situation, we want those other agencies to take the responsibility for placing snipers, making entry (into a home) and taking those lead roles.”
The department’s use of deadly force has been criticized repeatedly by family members and activists at City Council meetings, and Monday’s was no different. At least two people called for Schultz to be fired, and family members of some of the men shot by police renewed their calls for a federal civil rights investigation into the department.
APD was out in force at Monday’s council meeting, too, even though there was no police-related legislation on the agenda. At least 40 uniformed officers – including commanders, deputy chiefs and Schultz himself – were in attendance.
Earlier Monday, Schultz said APD may have handled the Tucumcari and Grants incidents differently – and there may have been different outcomes – had the new policy been in place.
Previously, APD didn’t have a policy to guide officers’ decisions on out-of-jurisdiction incidents.
At a news conference on Monday, Schultz and Mayor Richard Berry also announced that APD officers who respond to calls that result in police reports being issued will ask people for their email addresses. That way, officers can send police reports and a survey electronically that asks people questions about the service the officers provided.
The survey form also will be posted on the city’s website at www.cabq.govwhere it can be accessed.
Schultz and Berry have announced several changes to APD policy in recent weeks, all aimed at reducing the number of police shootings.
Most recently, officials announced the launch of “Project Guardian,” a database-driven system that will alert officers who are serving warrants or responding to other types of calls that the officer is about to encounter someone with a mental illness.
Officials have received more than 80 applications for a new civilian director for the APD Academy who will oversee a shift in training that focuses more on de-escalation techniques and less on paramilitary training. Also, officers are now being required to record all citizen encounters with lapel-mounted cameras, and sergeants are now required to respond to all top priority calls.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal