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Review of sheriff’s use of force policies released

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County officials on Tuesday released information from an independent review of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office current use of force and pursuit policies.

The review includes 22 recommendations, ranging from adding definitions related to the use of force and legal standards for using both non-deadly and deadly force to initiation and termination of pursuit policies and restrictions on deadly force.

The report recommends editing some language within policies, adding some additional definitions and organizing the policies differently.

A discussion of the report was on the agenda for Tuesday’s Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners meeting, but commissioners, who likely only received the report just hours before, didn’t have much to say.

Commissioners in March approved a resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, to fund an independent review of specific policies and procedures with a focus on evaluating whether they align with best practices, identifying potential liabilities and recommending changes.

“We have seen a jump in high-speed pursuit cases by BCSO,” Hart Stebbins said after the meeting. “Anytime there’s significant change from what we’ve seen in the past, we want to understand why that’s happening and whether there are any changes that need to be made to policy. We really haven’t had time to digest it because we just got it, but it sounds like the sheriff is open to any recommendations that report might include.”

The request for a review of BCSO procedures came after an increasing number of use-of-force cases in recent years, including incidents that have led to lawsuits and settlements against the county.

Commissioners retained the Southington, Conn.-based Daigle Law Group to perform the review. As part of the evaluation process, Daigle Law Group personnel met with Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and his command staff, as well as key individuals involved in policy, training and investigation of use of force and pursuits.

During a news conference earlier in the day, Gonzales said the report represented a “win-win” for the Sheriff’s Office and commissioners.

“The report was a positive report in favor of best practices and also constitutional policing,” Gonzales said. “We will review those recommendations and take them seriously. We will also have a legal process with our command staff and our (Standard Operating Procedures Board) looking at those for further review. If necessary, we will make changes.”

The company was expected to charge the county $225 per hour for the review, with the total cost roughly $15,000 to $20,000, according to county documents.

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