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Editorial: Dearth of BCSO policies lets public, our officers down

“It’s déjà vu all over again”

– Yogi Berra

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report that said the Albuquerque Police Department had a pattern and practice of violating individuals civil rights with its use of excessive and deadly force. Among the DOJ demands to enter into a settlement agreement and avoid a federal lawsuit was a complete overhaul of policies and procedures, especially regarding use of force, SWAT situations and de-escalation of police-public confrontations.

At least APD had policies to overhaul.

Because a report on the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office found that the standard operating procedures in some critical areas under Sheriff Manuel Gonzales aren’t in need of a re-write; they need to be written.

According to a July 4 story by Journal reporters Elise Kaplan and Dan McKay, a disturbing Staffing and Deployment Analysis completed by the Daigle Law group this year found BCSO – which has a $52 million-plus annual budget, 314 sworn officers and 201 staff – does not have clearly articulated and documented goals, policies or procedures for its SWAT team, Gang Intervention Recognition Patrol, Crime Scene Investigation unit, special victims unit and more.

And the study wasn’t even commissioned to find this out.

“Although not within the scope of this study and with few exceptions, we find the general lack of these elements stark,” the report states. “The absence of a defined mission or objectives and/or the lack of policies, procedures and directives governing the conduct and activities of these or any unit is an anathema to contemporary law enforcement.”

In the past, Sheriff Gonzales has said he needs more deputies. The analysis found the department had an appropriate number of field service deputies considering the time they are expected to take on calls.

But as an aside, it included the other disturbing findings.

One would think that after spending the past six years watching their partner law enforcement agency, APD, go through the arduous task of updating policies to ensure constitutional policing, the BCSO brass would have gotten its own house in order and set its deputies, detectives and staff members up for success.

And one would have thought wrong.

It gets worse.

The report details concerning training deficiencies, including having only one detective getting trained in “basic fingerprinting processing and death investigations.”

What happens when that detective isn’t working?

In addition, “only two have received criminal investigator training. … None of the detectives are trained in forensic photography. The record is silent on DNA collection. Expertise in fingerprint and DNA collection is essential but does not appear to be a priority.”

But wait, there’s more.

Two of the detectives in homicide and violent crimes weren’t trained in basic criminal investigation. Two hadn’t been trained in interrogation.

And while training costs money, and the ongoing pandemic has put a crimp in sales tax revenues and out-of-state travel and a halt to large in-person courses, not having clear, concise, constitutional SOPs is not a COVID-19 phenomenon. And Gonzales, who has been with the department for 24 years, has spent more time trying to discredit lapel cameras than asking for training money. (BCSO said Wednesday it may go to court to fight the new state mandate for lapel cameras.)

Last week Undersheriff Sid Covington said BCSO has taken the report’s 23 recommendations into consideration and acted on what it can. Spokesman Joseph Montiel said a matrix identifies who needs what training but funding, travel restrictions and course cancellations make delivering it tough.

Understood. But that doesn’t explain the years prior to the pandemic when the department could have been addressing these areas.

Instead, it short-changed its sworn officers, and even worse, the people who depend on them to have the training and tools they need to fight crime.

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.