Albuquerque police officers stood shoulder to shoulder at the home of David Rogers on April 2. They wanted to give the retired APD lieutenant a hero’s send-off after he lost his battle with leukemia, and they accomplished that.
They, along with Mayor Tim Keller and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also accomplished sending a strong message there’s a double standard when it comes to following social distancing rules in the age of coronavirus – rules both have vowed to have law enforcement enforce.
Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier, who was in attendance, confirmed through a spokesman officers organized the hearse escort from Rogers’ home to the funeral home but declined to elaborate. A spokesman said Geier reminded officers to practice social distancing.
Photos and a video (since removed from YouTube) of the send-off show that few, if any, listened. Officers did not stay in cruisers or on motorcycles to respectfully follow the hearse. During part of the video, some officers appeared to stand apart. But at times many stood shoulder to shoulder outside Rogers’ home, some even posing for group photos. No masks. No gloves. No other personal protective equipment. Not even by Chief Geier.
Neither Lujan Grisham nor Keller, who have ordered citizens to stay home and away from groups, expressed concern about the send-off. A spokesman for the governor said: “It would seem in my view that efforts were made to adhere to social distancing as best it could be while still providing Lt. Rogers a respectful escort worthy of his service to the city.” Keller did not answer questions, and instead a spokeswoman sent a statement about measures APD has taken to keep officers safe on the job. Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, told the Journal “a show of strong leadership and essence of our police family” was “the bare minimum” that could be done to honor Rogers.
Really? To preserve social distancing, you can’t load your groceries on the conveyer belt at the store until the person in front of you is done. You can’t join with family and friends to celebrate an engagement or mourn a loved one or honor a milestone. But if you wear a blue uniform and badge, you can pose side by side for pics with no protective gear whatsoever? Do our elected and law enforcement leaders think COVID-19 differentiates?
We understand that honoring our fallen police officers is a long-standing tradition. The desire to show respect for Rogers, 56, a U.S. Navy and law enforcement veteran, is commendable. But the way it was done was wholly inappropriate when state residents are told to stay home and remain 6 feet apart. The gathering at Rogers’ home came just a week and a half after the state Department of Health banned mass gatherings, defined as more than five. It’s a message officials and flashing road signs have been driving home. It’s an order police have been enforcing. And then APD blatantly violates it.
The failure of the mayor and governor to denounce the send-off is a glaring failure in leadership. By attending the gathering, Geier gave his approval, and rather than speaking out against the gathering, Keller and Lujan Grisham have backed him up.
No doubt it would have been awkward for Keller and Lujan Grisham to publicly criticize law enforcement for honoring one of its own. But they ordered the shelter-in-place rules, regardless of the personal pain and sacrifice they are causing hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans. They should have the backbone to support their own policies – and then brace for any criticism.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.