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Despite all the scrutiny, nobody is watching the police watchdogs


The state of policing in the United States is under an unprecedented level of scrutiny, but the focus of that scrutiny is misapprehended and way too thin-sliced. Having been a police officer and now as an attorney who represents law enforcement personnel across the state, I can tell you that policing is one of, if not, the most regulated profession in the country despite the popular narrative that “policing is out of control.” Rather, it’s very much in control.

However, by laying blame upon the uniformed officers for these issues gives a pass to the vast spectrum of others who merit as much, if not more, responsibility for the challenges facing law enforcement agencies across the country.

From the start of their careers to their retirement, officers are subject to a never-ending level of monitoring. Candidates who apply to police departments undergo a broad spectrum of personal evaluation by multiple persons. From academic assessments, personal integrity questionnaires that are then cross referenced in polygraph interviews, to an MMPI assessment, a psychological interview, and usually an oral board, there are myriad professionals who review each applicant and monitor their progress. Then after candidates complete their basic academy and pass a state established standards test, the real monitoring begins.

On a daily basis, the actions and performance of officers is monitored and subject to scrutiny by a vast array of personnel. Civilian review boards – like the Police Oversight Board and the Civilian Police Oversight Agency here in Albuquerque – monitor department policies and investigate civilian complaints.

Internal Affairs Units investigate internal complaints/disciplinary allegations against officers as made by their colleagues and supervisors. Supervisors track officer performance, activities and review each incident report written.

The state monitors and confirms ongoing training requirements. Departments mandate additional training requirements and implement new SOPs almost every month that dictate procedures personnel are to follow. Virtually every encounter between a citizen and officer is video recorded and subject to department and public scrutiny.

If a department finds itself under federal oversight, like the Albuquerque Police Department, comprehensive training, use of force review and operational requirements are implemented and subject to ongoing scrutiny by Department of Justice attorneys and court-appointed monitors. Civil attorneys further provide oversight by legal actions brought upon departments and officers for claims of injuries upon citizens.

Yet silent from all the protests and riots seen across the country is any whiff of holding those responsible for overseeing police departments accountable. Few if any office-holders, mayors, chiefs, county/city attorneys, citizen oversight board directors, or government regulators have been fired or otherwise held accountable for this mess. Of course – and assuming there is a problem – it’s easier to lay everyone’s frustrations at the feet of a few officers who find themselves in midst of isolated incidents. But by doing that, we ignore and give a pass to all of those people who failed in their responsibilities to provide oversight to their law enforcement agencies. Failing to hold any of those people accountable simply ensures these issues will not be resolved.

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