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Union leader: Police under ‘attack’ by lawmakers

Sgt. Jose Carrasco, president of the New Mexico State Police union, speaks in a message to legislators, members and the public. (Source: New Mexico State Police Association)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The president of the New Mexico State Police union is blasting legislation currently winding through the Legislature, saying some of the proposals pitched as accountability tools would potentially make officers’ jobs more dangerous.

In a video posted Monday to YouTube and the New Mexico State Police Association’s Facebook page, Sgt. Jose Carrasco said his members currently feel under “attack” by some lawmakers, especially in the wake of last week’s on-duty death of State Police officer Darian Jarrott.

Carrasco criticized a few specific proposals in his 15-minute monologue, including Senate Bill 227, which would establish a standard “use-of-force” policy for law enforcement agencies statewide, and House Bill 4, which would eliminate the “qualified immunity” defense in some lawsuits involving alleged civil rights violations by police and other public employees.

New Mexico has among the nation’s highest rate of police shootings and supporters of the bills see them as a path toward more constitutional policing.

But Carrasco complained in his video that SB 227, sponsored by Sen. Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, leaves officers with fewer less lethal options to enforce the law and creates rules that could put them at a disadvantage when confronting someone violent. He argues that HB 4, meanwhile, is too blunt a tool to address what he claims are rare instances of bad policing.

“There are bad senators, bad representatives, bad doctors, bad priests, bad nurses – there’s bad in every single profession, yet we’re the ones that get picked on nonstop,” he said in the video.

Carrasco also invoked officer Jarrott, who was killed last week near Deming while making a traffic stop as part of a federal operation. The union leader said passing the bills in question would mean fewer officers like Jarrott on the streets.

“The criminals will have the upper hand on any law enforcement that’s left in this community, in this state,” he said. “You’re basically guaranteeing crime will continue to spike.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s executive director said in a statement that the bills are essential for protecting communities.

ACLU’s Peter Simonson acknowledged the difficulty of losing an officer and said last week’s violence highlights the need for continued work toward “a safe and just society.”

“Part of that work, however, is creating better systems of oversight, accountability and transparency for law enforcement in our state,” Simonson said. “New Mexico consistently ranks first or second in the nation for people killed by police officers, and SB 227 would create a statewide use-of-force standard that will save lives, improve community trust in law enforcement, and help build more safe and effective police departments in every corner of our state.”

SB 227 would bar officers from using physical force until they’ve exhausted de-escalation tactics and techniques and, even then, force must be proportionate to the situation. It also prohibits deadly force against someone who is a threat only to themselves, severely restricts the ability to shoot at moving vehicles, and bans the use of chokeholds, tear gas and rubber bullets. It sets standards for reporting officer interactions that result in injury or death and sets guidelines for executing search warrants, including a mandated 45-second waiting period between knocking on a door and entering by force.

HB 4 – also known as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act – addresses what Simonson called the “legal loophole of ‘qualified immunity.’ ”

It “would finally allow those whose rights have been violated by public officials to seek justice in our state’s courts, an avenue that has long been denied,” Simonson said.

Carrasco did not respond to a Journal message Tuesday, but New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement he has scheduled a meeting Wednesday with Carrasco to go over some amendments already made to HB 4.

“After extensive revisions in the House Judiciary Committee (Monday), the bill addresses all of the concerns he discussed in his video, and I am glad to walk him through each modification made,” Egolf said of the legislation he co-sponsored with Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque. “Sergeant Carrasco informed me he plans to read the bill before our meeting tomorrow and I look forward to a positive discussion.”

Lopez did not immediately respond to a Journal message seeking comment.

Carrasco’s video prompted a brief statement Tuesday afternoon from a trio of top-ranking Republican state senators.

“We stand by our law enforcement officers,” Sens. Greg Baca of Belen, Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho and Mark Moores of Albuquerque said in the joint statement.

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