Editorial: APD's changing culture is good, but too late for veteran - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: APD’s changing culture is good, but too late for veteran

It’s little consolation to the wife and family of Air Force veteran Armand Martin, but the hard lessons learned before and after the U.S. Department of Justice came to town to assess the Albuquerque Police Department’s handling of SWAT calls – among its operations deemed in violation of constitutional policing – seem to be contributing to much needed reforms in how police approach standoffs with people in crisis.

Martin’s death was one of several controversial police-involved shootings in 2014 and before that kept the spotlight on the APD’s apparent standard operating approach to calls for help.

Fortunately, it can be said that a recurrence of a case like Martin’s seems to be unlikely under the new operating procedures for which the department is being praised.

The DOJ, APD and the court-appointed monitor overseeing an agreement with the feds seem to agree the department is on the right track.

Instead of approaching a standoff as a quasi military operation designed to eliminate a threat – sometimes at the ultimate cost for someone in a crisis, like Martin – the department now tries to de-escalate the situation over time.

While it may inconvenience neighbors and increase APD expenses, this is as it should be and how it should have been for Martin and others who met the same fate: shot at the hands of police officers who thought they were doing their jobs and potentially saving other people’s lives. Officers who were put in an untenable situation by a failed command and control structure.

When police were called to the Martins’ West Side home at his wife’s request in May of 2014, actions by the SWAT team escalated an already volatile situation instead of calming it.

Gail Martin, who had left the home, had called police saying her husband had threatened her and their children with a gun. Police tried to get him to leave his home and surrender, but he hung up on negotiators, at one point saying he had taken sleeping pills and just wanted to sleep.

His wife tried to get a negotiator to allow Martin’s brother or children to talk to him, but the negotiators refused, saying they might escalate the situation.

So instead of waiting out the distressed veteran who said he was going to bed, police fired flash bang grenades, tear gas and wooden batons into the house to keep Martin awake, get his attention and force him to come out.

The tactic worked, and after several hours, Martin came out of the house firing two handguns. He in turn was killed by officer Daniel Hughes, who fired the fatal shot. Hughes was cleared by the District Attorney last week.

Hughes’ statements show the angst he felt at taking that shot. But at that point, he said, he felt he had no choice. It mattered not that Martin was pushed to that point by APD tactics.

Gail Martin has written the DA’s Office asking for details about that day’s events. In her letter, she said she knows only what was reported in the media. “This has had a huge impact on my family,” she wrote. “He was our sole support. We are now losing our home to foreclosure. We would like answers.”

Cooperating with survivors of shootings that are deemed necessary is another reform law enforcement could do well to embrace.

While it is good to see a general agreement that APD appears to be making progress on reforming an overly aggressive style of policing – especially where SWAT situations are concerned – there is still much work to do, collectively and on a case-by-case basis.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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