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Balderas appoints panel to review policy on shootings by police

SANTA FE, N.M. — In a state that leads the nation in fatal shootings per capita by law enforcement, a special subcommittee has been created to review policies and procedures that New Mexico law enforcement agencies presumably follow when responding to and investigating officer-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents.

N.M. Attorney General Hector Balderas

N.M. Attorney General Hector Balderas

The subcommittee was appointed by Attorney General Hector Balderas, in his role as chairman of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, according to a news release issued Monday.

In addition to reviewing and auditing current policies and procedures, the subcommittee will make recommendations to ensure timeliness, transparency and uniform accountability across New Mexico law enforcement agencies. The review will include more than 190 law enforcement agencies in the state.

The four-person subcommittee consists of State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, Navajo Department of Public Safety Chief Darren Soland and citizen members Elisabeth L. Miller and Kelly Burnham, both from Las Cruces, according to AG’s Office spokesman James Hallinan. All four are members of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board.

Asked if the recommendations that eventually come from the subcommittee are binding, Hallinan said, “This is an information-gathering process and we cannot speculate on what the board will do when the report is presented.”

The U.S. Department of Justice already has investigated Albuquerque’s police force, the state’s largest, and found it had a culture of excessive force. The city is working with the DOJ to implement dozens of changes required by the federal agency.

“Officer-involved shootings can have devastating consequences for both the civilian and law enforcement communities. My office has reviewed this issue for over a year, and during that time we studied the methodology of other states, met with impacted families, and created a strategic approach for moving forward,” Balderas said in explaining the need for the subcommittee.

“We believe that following an incident, officers, families, and the public deserve a process they can trust, starting with the investigation. Good investigations depend on sound, consistent policies, and that is why I called for this review.”

While there is “no simple way” of addressing what Balderas called a critical public safety issue, he said he was “committed to promoting consistent processes that advance integrity and transparency across New Mexico law enforcement agencies.”

The subcommittee will conduct its review in the first half of 2017 and present its report and recommendations to the full board at the June 2017 meeting.

Hallinan said the Albuquerque Police Department would remain bound by its mandate from the DOJ regardless of what the subcommittee recommends or how the board responds to those recommendations.

New Mexico leads the nation this year in fatal shootings by police per capita with more than 10.1 fatal shootings per 1 million people, according to an online database created by The Washington Post. On Saturday, the tally reached 21 people killed when two officers with the Las Cruces Police Department shot and killed 36-year-old Joshua “Josh” Clay Dunne. The officers shot Dunne – who was possibly suicidal and possibly armed – after he refused to leave his hotel room for several hours, according to a LCPD spokesman. Police didn’t say why they opened fire.

The Washington Post database of police shootings is in its second year; last year New Mexico was second only to Wyoming in the per capita number of civilians killed by law enforcement.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board was created in 1969 to disseminate qualifications for hiring and standards for training New Mexico law enforcement officers and telecommunication officers.

The board consists of the attorney general as chairman, a certified tribal or pueblo police chief, a municipal police chief, a county sheriff, a State Oolice officer, a district attorney, an officer ranked sergeant or below, and two citizen representatives. The board meets a minimum of four times a year to conduct business.

Journal staff reporter Elise Kaplan contributed to this report.