ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s been a violent half-decade for the Albuquerque Police Department – its officers have been involved in 41 shootings, 27 of them fatal, since 2010.
But 2014 came to a close with the longest gap between police shootings in the past five years.
APD officers haven’t been in an officer-involved shooting since July 22, which is more than five months. Prior to this stretch, the longest the department went without a shooting since 2010 was about 3½ months, from mid-March to early July 2013.
“It’s a different world right now,” Michael Gomez, who has become a strong advocate for APD reform since his son Alan was shot by police in 2011, said Wednesday.
When asked about the gap between shootings, Deputy Chief William Roseman rapped his knuckles on his desk. (Knock on wood.)
“Some of it is pure dumb luck,” he said. “We’ve had so many calls that all it took was something to be a little bit different and it could have been an officer-involved shooting.”
And there have been two police shootings in the Albuquerque area in December, said Maj. Tim Gonterman. A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy fatally shot an armed man after a traffic stop on West Central within Albuquerque police’s jurisdiction, and APD officers were on scene when a New Mexico State Police officer shot a man in Los Lunas.
APD officers also were on a task force with a U.S. marshal who shot and killed an armed man in Albuquerque in June.
“We’re realists and hopefully everyone else is, too. We’re going to have more, there’s no way to prevent every one in the future,” Gonterman said. “Every day there are calls that officers take that could turn into a shooting that don’t. But you don’t see a story when the plane lands.”
The current gap in shootings comes just as the city and the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to a set of police reforms that are aimed at reducing police excessive force. In April, the DOJ announced its investigation into APD found the department had a pattern of excessive force, which included police shootings. There were four officer-involved shootings in a little more than three months after the DOJ findings letter was released.
In October, the city and the DOJ unveiled a settlement agreement that aims to reduce the pattern of excessive force with a series of police reforms. There hasn’t been a police shooting since the agreement was released.
The agreement, which is awaiting approval from a federal judge, is designed to continue to increase crisis-intervention training, enhance use-of-force reporting and investigations and promote constitutional policing, among other goals.
Roseman said Albuquerque police implemented policies this year that have reduced shootings by slowing down chaotic scenes. He said the most successful policy changes within APD were giving more officers crisis intervention and de-escalation training.
The other significant policy change happened eight months ago when police made it so a lieutenant was working at all times. In previous years, sergeants were often the highest-ranking officer on duty during night shifts and weekends.
Gomez credits the current gap between shootings to DOJ reforms, the pressure he and other advocates have put on the police department and the publicity officer-involved shootings have received.
But he said there’s still work to be done. He said advocates and family members who have been shot by police are now pushing federal and state prosecutors to hold an officer accountable for a past police shooting. He said that is an important step for moving the department forward.
“If we can get one indictment, and I’m not talking about a conviction, an indictment,” he said, “that’s a big hurdle because it will show cops they are not untouchable.”