The Albuquerque Police Department has finished revising its use-of-force policies — a move leaders anticipate will result in fewer shootings by officers since they should have a better sense of when they can use less-lethal force rather than deadly force.
Less lethal options include Tasers, beanbag shotguns, 40-millimeter impact launchers, or canine deployments.
The changes have been approved by the Department of Justice — which is engaged in a settlement agreement to reform APD — said APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins. Officers will begin training on the new policies over the next quarter.
Last year there were 18 shootings by APD officers, 10 of which were fatal. In three cases people were injured and in five cases officers missed — however in one of those cases a man killed himself right before the officer fired. It was a dramatic uptick over previous years.
The high number of shootings caused DOJ attorneys and community stakeholders to raise concerns at a federal court hearing in early December even as APD continues to improve in compliance with the reforms laid out in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the DOJ.
APD is currently at 100% primary compliance, 99% secondary compliance, and 80% operational compliance with the agreement.
“We wanted officers to be clear on when they could use less lethal force,” said Superintendent of Police Reform Victor E. Valdez, a retired judge, in a news release. “We found officers should be able to use less lethal force sooner than they were (formerly) able to under the previous policy. These revisions allow better protection to both the public and the officers when confronted with a violent individual.”
Police Chief Harold Medina said de-escalation continues to be a priority.
“Our goal with these changes is to make sure that if de-escalation is not possible, we exhaust every tool available to apprehend offenders, only using a firearm as a last resort,” Medina said in the news release.
The previous use of force policies were the result of an extensive process that involved review by the DOJ and the Independent Monitoring Team overseeing the reform effort. They went live in early January 2020.
But within six to eight months APD leaders began to see the need for revisions, said Deputy Chief of Compliance Cori Lowe in an interview with Journal editors and reporters earlier this month.
“We started noticing different areas of improvement based off of force review boards, based off of discipline that we started seeing coming out and just basic trend data …,” Lowe said. “Specifically because of the (officer involved shootings), you saw us really try to react as much as we could, because we started recognizing that there were significant areas that we needed to make more clear.”
She said despite the lengthy process that went into the prior policies there were things they didn’t see until officers started trying to follow them in the field.
“I think a lot of times until you put these in practice, and you kind of take a look at it, you may not recognize it,” Lowe said.
For instance, she said officers were confused about when they could tase a person since the word “use” seemed to include pointing a Taser at someone as well as discharging it.
“What we did is we went through there and we put discharge throughout,” Lowe said. “So officers are very clear that they can use a Taser when there’s an act of resistance or the totality of circumstances that bring it through.”
Both Lowe and police chief Harold Medina — in prior interviews — stressed that the new policies ask officers to evaluate the totality of the circumstances surrounding whether they should use less-lethal force, and not just whether the person is actively resisting or a threat in the moment.
Other changes include outlining when officers should discharge their Tasers and when they should use them as a “show of force” to encourage compliance and replacing the words “immediate threat” with “imminent threat.”
“An immediate threat is an immediate threat to an officer or another individual that can be delivered without delay and requires an instant response by an officer to stop the threat or control of a situation,” Lowe said. “Imminent is a dangerous or threatening situation which is about to occur or take place and is perceived to be unfolding.”
Although APD has been working on revising the policies for some time, a recent shooting appears to exemplify the need for officers to use less-lethal options earlier in an encounter.
On Nov. 10, 2022, as a force array of officers tried to take Jesus Crosby into custody in the parking lot of police headquarters, two officers fired their guns at the same time that two fired their Tasers. Officers had threatened over and over to tase Crosby if he didn’t comply but it wasn’t until one of the times he stepped forward that officers fired both Tasers and guns simultaneously.
Crosby was struck several times and was taken to the hospital where he died. He had been in a mental health crisis and was carrying nail clippers with the file extended, which officers mistook for a knife.
In a phone interview Thursday, Medina said the investigation isn’t complete yet and “there’s still a lot of discussion about that case” but the department wants to “bring clarity” to when officers can discharge their Taser.
“Police officers sometimes issue orders that they’re going to do something but there isn’t always the clarity that they’re authorized to do it yet …,” Medina said. “I think it’s important to recognize that these officers are in a situation where they’re giving orders and they’re prepared to do something and they’re following a script in their mind to give orders, give orders but there is a lot of unclarity amongst officers in general in situations like that — whether less lethal is authorized or not.”