ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Community groups, family members of men shot by Albuquerque police officers, along with several city councilors, have for the past two years been asking the U.S. Justice Department for a civil rights investigation of APD.
But Police Chief Ray Schultz has insisted that APD has an image problem — not a cultural one — and he has pointed to a series of changes in policies and procedures aimed at addressing concerns over a spike in police shootings and other public black eyes the department has received.
Schultz and Mayor Richard Berry have said a Justice Department investigation isn’t necessary because APD’s “self-induced” changes have the department on the right track.
Since May 2011, Schultz says, APD has made more than 60 changes. About 40 of those came after the city paid the Police Executive Research Forum, a national law enforcement think tank of which Schultz is a prominent member, $60,000 to review its use-of-force policies.
And the chief himself ordered nearly 20 more tweaks to department policies.
Among the more high-profile changes:
♦ All officers are required to carry Tasers, in addition to their firearms, and record all citizen contacts on lapel-mounted cameras.
♦ Supervisors are immediately sent to all “critical incident” scenes in an effort to slow down situations that are often fast-paced and emotionally charged.
♦ APD has reinstituted previously discarded hiring standards — including a requirement of 60 college credit hours or two years’ military experience — to try to hire “good problem solvers and decision makers.”
♦ The department has hired a civilian director of training who has said he is moving the APD Academy away from the paramilitary methods of the past and toward a college campus environment.
♦ APD continues to develop a database that contains information about people who are “currently experiencing a mental health crisis.” Police officials say the database can give officers responding to potentially volatile calls real-time information about the people they are about to encounter.
APD officers have shot at 25 individuals since 2010, striking 23 of them with bullets. Seventeen have died.
Many of the changes were direct responses to a spike in police shootings in 2010. There were 14 that year, nine of them fatal. APD’s 10-year average is eight shootings a year. In 2011, there were six, and there have been six so far this year.
Several of those shot by APD officers were living with mental illness, substance abuse problems or both.
According to a recent police union survey, rank-and-file officers overwhelmingly believe the changes were politically motivated and an overreaction to intense media scrutiny the department has been under.
But Schultz and Berry have stood by the changes, and although the city sent a letter to the Justice Department saying it would cooperate with any investigation, the chief and the mayor have been unenthusiastic about the prospect of DOJ launching a civil rights probe of APD.
Last year, Berry vetoed a City Council resolution that would have invited the Justice Department to Albuquerque for an investigation.
Earlier this year, Schultz had his staff compared APD to police departments in New Orleans and Seattle that were recently investigated by the Justice Department. The findings: APD already has put into place 100 percent of the “applicable” DOJ-ordered changes in Seattle and 95 percent of those in New Orleans.
For example, the Justice Department has ordered the New Orleans Police Department to form a crisis intervention team to better serve people living with mental illness. And NOPD must now video record all interviews with suspects.
APD has had a crisis intervention team for several years; Schultz has mandated that a growing number of his officers receive training in dealing with mental illness during the past 18 months, and APD officers are required to record all citizen contacts.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal