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APD re-writing its use-of-force policy

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque police have started the monthslong process of reviewing and rewriting several major policies – including use of force – as part of the settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque police union, said police officers are submitting comments on the draft use-of-force policy. He said officers are concerned that the policy doesn’t clearly state that officers will be judged on what an “objectively reasonable” officer would have done in the same circumstance.

“Officers have to make unthinkable decisions in a split second,” he said. “A police officer’s use of force is judged based on the perspective of the officer. Not 20/20 hindsight.”

As part of that process, the Police Oversight Board discussed the draft policy at its meeting last week.

APD Cmdr. Rob Middleton told board members at the meeting that the draft of the new policy is more direct while current policy has more narrative paragraphs and has “proved to be confusing for police officers.”

Nancy Koenigsberg, an attorney for Disability Rights New Mexico and a member of APD Forward, told board members she was pleased the draft policy repeatedly instructs officers to de-escalate situations and, if they do use force, to use the minimum amount necessary.

“The use-of-force policy is the linchpin to reforming APD’s culture,” she said. “This is the most important policy.”

The draft policy, which is available on the Police Oversight Board’s website, says the department has even stricter standards than the “minimum legal requirements” for use of force. It also says officers must make every effort to preserve human life and that they must use the minimum amount of force that is reasonable, necessary and proportional based on the totality of the circumstances, according to the draft.

The use-of-force policy is one of several that will be revamped in the coming months. Other policies include those governing intermediate weapons, de-escalation and use-of-force reporting and investigations.

The policies are reviewed and modified periodically as part of the reform effort underway at APD, brought on by a Department of Justice investigation that found police had a pattern of excessive force.

According to a recent court filing, the draft policy is scheduled to be submitted to the independent monitor overseeing city police reform at the end of July and to the police academy for training purposes at the beginning of September.

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