ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department is expanding an experimental unit that assists officers in preparing cases for trial – a move a nonpartisan study found has already increased the number of offenders the District Attorney’s Office is able to indict.
The city budget – signed by Mayor Tim Keller this week – allocates money for 12 “civilian specialists” in the Shield Unit. The unit was created in November 2017, began operation in February 2018 and initially employed three paralegals.
Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said the unit now has 11 positions filled and will have the 12th filled within the month.
A nonpartisan analysis of the Bernalillo County criminal justice system released last July found that felony indictments increased after the Shield Unit was created. According to the report, out of 1,100 felony cases charged in Bernalillo County in March and April of 2018, approximately 600 were turned in by APD’s paralegal team.
“Since the APD paralegal team began work, the … new felonies successfully indicted by the SJDA (2nd Judicial District Attorney) increased from 50% to 80%, a statistically significant increase …,” the report says. “It is highly likely that some of this success is attributable to the work of the APD paralegals, although improvement or changes in other processes could also have contributed.”
Gallegos said that, throughout 2018, the unit provided discovery for 2,871 felony cases and this year they have already provided discovery for 2,787 felony cases. The unit strives to turn in all discovery within four days.
“Discovery is expected for about 6,000 cases by the end of the year,” he wrote in the news release.
Gallegos said that, in addition to paralegals, the expanded unit will include “employees with other types of civilian law enforcement backgrounds.” The team works on felony cases for officers across the department, except in cases involving homicide, vehicular homicide, gangs and vice.
“In addition to providing police reports, the unit orders and provides the audio from 911 calls and dispatch logs, all reports and dispatch records mentioned in any report, all documents referenced, copies of any photos/CDs/DVDs/USBs which are tagged into evidence, and copies of any items tagged into evidence which can be copied,” Gallegos said in a news release. “They often contact businesses for any surveillance video of events, and receipts for damage which occurred. All of this together provides the DA with a solid case to prosecute.”
Gallegos said that, in addition to helping prosecutors, the unit also helps free officers to spend more time patrolling and less time doing the administrative work of gathering discovery.
Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors have seen the time it takes for discovery to be submitted reduced from weeks to days – a change they attribute in part to the paralegals processing and organizing case files.
“For most medium- and low-risk offenders, the speed of launching a case is one of the most important factors in deterring future criminal activity,” Patrick wrote in an email.