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Patterns emerge in APD shootings

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Officers hired between 2007 and 2009 accounted for 39 percent of the shootings over the past five years – more than all officers hired either before or after them – during a period when APD changed its recruiting and hiring practices in an effort to bolster the ranks.

A report recently completed by the Civilian Police Oversight Agency also found that officers who are Anglo males were involved in a disproportionate number of shootings during the period studied.

The report detailed several patterns of the 51 Albuquerque police officers who shot at someone in 42 recent police shootings. It will serve as a primer as the Police Oversight Board prepares to start its review of officer-involved shootings, said Robin Hammer, executive director of the CPOA.

“We’re looking for opportunities to see patterns … and to give feedback to the police department on these patterns,” said board member Joanne Fine.

For example, 48 – or 98 percent – of officers who shot at a person were male and 39 – 76 percent – were Anglo, according to the CPOA report. The Albuquerque Police Department is about 87 percent male and 54 percent Anglo.

“The (Department of Justice) thoroughly investigated every aspect of the department and didn’t find any evidence or claims of biased-based policing,” said Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman. “And that was directly looked at.”

The officers who joined the force between 2007 and 2009 were hired at a time when APD changed its requirements, and increased cadet classes and lateral hires from other departments in an attempt to grow the ranks of the force.

Espinoza pointed out that officers hired during that period came into the department under the watch of a previous police administration. She also said Albuquerque police have improved their recruiting techniques and training since then.

APD under Mayor Martin Chavez was trying to get to 1,100. The force fluctuated between about 900 and 1,100 officers. It currently is authorized at 1,000, but had 881 officers Friday, Espinoza said.

“It certainly piqued my interest,” Fine said of the 2007 through 2009 hires. “I’d want to know more about that.”

One of the tasks of the newly created civilian oversight board is to review Albuquerque police’s officer-involved shootings. The board is also expected to make policy recommendations.

Board members are getting use-of-force and other police training to better analyze the shootings. There are currently 21 shootings waiting for civilian review. Albuquerque police have completed their internal investigations into nine of those shootings.

Some of Albuquerque’s most controversial police shootings in recent years haven’t been scrutinized by a civilian oversight board, including the shootings of Christopher Torres and Alan Gomez, which resulted in large judgements to their families after they sued, and James Boyd, who was shot in the Sandia foothills in March 2014 by two Albuquerque officers who are now facing murder charges.

The oversight board was created after the U.S. Justice Department investigated APD and found police had a pattern of excessive force, and that weak civilian oversight contributed to the pattern.

The new board was given more investigative powers than Albuquerque’s previous civilian oversight system. It can subpoena officers and has more access to police documents.

Board members received the officer-involved shooting report at its first meeting March 12.

Among the other findings:

• 17 of the 51 officers involved in shootings were part of the Special Investigations Division, which includes the SWAT team.

• 43 percent of the shootings were against a subject who was in crisis because of mental health or substance abuse issues.

“So training should be increased concerning interactions with the mentally ill and substance abusers,” the report states.

• All but one of the people shot by police in the past five years were men.

• Hispanics were shot at a slightly higher rate than their overall population. Of the people shot by police since 2010, 54 percent were Hispanic, while Hispanics make up about 47 percent of Albuquerque’s population.

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