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APD’s critics turn reform efforts into circus

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By my count, it took one month and 10 days for the public debate about police shootings in Albuquerque to devolve into a circus.

On March 25, hundreds of people gathered at Central Avenue and First Street downtown and marched to the steps of the Police Department headquarters, chanting slogans about James Boyd, who had been killed by police in the Sandia foothills nine days earlier.

The march was big and passionate and peaceful – a second one five days later less peaceful. But to anyone who had been watching the Albuquerque Police Department death toll rise for the past four years, the first was a remarkable display of shared disgust.

Two weeks later, hundreds of people poured out their complaints to the Albuquerque City Council, the only public body that afforded them a venue. That, too, was impressive. The process took over five hours, and everyone was heard.

Five days after that, the Department of Justice released its findings in a lengthy report that was a strong rebuke to the practices and culture of APD. The DOJ also said some of the shooting cases had been handed over for criminal investigation, and the process of reform began.

Since the DOJ report three weeks ago, I’ve been taken by the “either-ors” that seem to be epidemic in the public debate.

Either you support the APD or you support the criminals.

If you demand reforms at APD, you don’t respect the cop on the street.

If you trust the Justice Department to fix APD, you must have also supported the Branch Davidian siege at Waco. (Seriously: Invoking Janet Reno is a thing.)

If you’re willing to wait for change, you must not really want change.

If APD shoots another person, then, see, the Justice Department didn’t do a thing.

It’s a universe in which there are two mutually exclusive options. If one is true, the other cannot be. In the world of rhetoric, I believe this line of reasoning is known as the “false dilemma.” It encourages “us v. them,” it prevents dialogue and it leads to stalemates.

Which brings us to Monday night at the Albuquerque City Council meeting.

Once again, the council provided a forum for all comers on the issue. And the council had on its agenda two proposals that might give Albuquerque citizens a measure of influence over the Police Department. And APD Chief Gorden Eden waited in the audience.

One proposal would have asked voters to amend the City Charter to make the police chief an elected position rather than one appointed by the mayor.

The other would have made the mayor’s appointment of a chief subject to City Council approval.

Instead of giving the council a chance to finally do something, a band of protesters decided to occupy City Council and arrest the chief of police.

The meeting descended into chaos before it was disbanded and, after the councilors left, the protesters took over the council member’s seats, ate Girl Scout cookies and passed their own “resolutions.”

So, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, you’re finally winning the game and you empty the bench for a brawl?

I can’t think of a more important community issue than what’s happening at APD. Three things are clear: The city has to have confidence in its Police Department; this Police Department has to undergo fundamental change; and the city’s citizens have to be part of that process – in no small part to make sure it gets done right.

I’ve been impressed by some of the people who have called or emailed me and others who have stood up at public forums on the issue and explained their nuanced points of view:

That you can hope that police officers stay safe on the job while still demanding that they follow the law and respect the Constitution. That you can respect the work of the majority of police officers who do a good job while advocating for discipline for the minority of bad apples.

And here’s another one: that it’s going to take some time for reforms to be put in place and for them to have an effect. A problem that festered for decades won’t be fixed overnight.

Turning this into Occupy APD? What a waste of momentum. What a waste of time.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.