This session we have a huge opportunity to come together in order to fix our broken policing system. That’s what so many people here in New Mexico and across the nation are demanding of us.
Here are the facts: every year, New Mexico has one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of killings by police in the country. According to data from Mapping Police Violence, police in New Mexico killed 27 people in 2021; by comparison, police in New York killed 25 people that year, even though New York has more than nine times our population. In the last decade, more than 200 of our neighbors here in New Mexico were killed by police – including 31 in the last year alone. And, of course, we know that sadly, people of color, unhoused people, and people experiencing mental health crises are particularly impacted when police misuse force.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can all agree that it’s possible to strike a balance between keeping our communities safe and giving police officers the tools they need to do their jobs without giving them a blank check for when they can use force. That’s why I’m proud to be introducing the Law Enforcement Officer Procedures Act in the state Senate as one step toward policing that lives up to our values of fairness, equity, and justice under the law.
As a retired Air Force officer, I know how important it is to have strong, clear and consistent rules of engagement and policies on escalation of force. There’s no reason why policing should be any different. Under this bill, officers will be required to exhaust any available de-escalation tactics before resorting to force. Any force they do use must be proportionate to the threat they are facing; deadly force can only be used when necessary to protect human life.
These aren’t radical proposals – they’re common-sense best practices. In fact, evidence shows that officers who serve in departments with more rigorous use of force policies are less likely to be injured or killed in the line of duty, and they are also less likely to harm or kill members of the public.
New Mexicans deserve to trust that calling a police officer will help make a situation safer – not cause it to end in tragedy. New levels of transparency from our police departments will go a long way toward rebuilding the trust between police and the communities they serve. The Law Enforcement Officer Procedures Act would also improve transparency by creating a database that will help ensure we sufficiently vet new officers so bad apples aren’t improperly hired.
I was elected to the New Mexico Senate in 2020, on the heels of a major reckoning in our country around race and police violence. I promised myself and our communities that I would work to find common-sense solutions to this issue that are rooted in facts and keep the public and police officers safe.
Law enforcement is a tough job and I’m grateful to the many New Mexicans who work hard to keep their communities safe. With common-sense measures we can become a leader in police professionalization and make sure that all of us are safer.
Harold Pope has represented District 23 in the New Mexico Senate since 2021.