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ABQ councilor seeking police reforms has an insider’s perspective

City Councilor Pat Davis

City Councilor Pat Davis

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The Metropolitan D.C. officer said he spotted a gun in the driver’s hand and lunged into the car to try to grab it.

He tussled with the driver, who hit the gas and sped off.

The officer, Pat Davis, now a city councilor in Albuquerque, drew his weapon and fired into the car twice, striking the suspect in the shoulder. Davis fell to the ground and the car ran over his leg. The driver crashed the car and was taken into custody.

The shooting occurred about 2:30 in the afternoon outside of a low-income Lincoln Heights housing project in the nation’s capital in August 2004.

The driver, Moses Bell, would later represent himself pro se in a civil rights lawsuit against Davis, his supervisors, the police department and others. A federal judge ultimately dismissed the case.

Davis, who is also the executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, which advocates for progressive policies and issues, has introduced legislation on the City Council to change the way Albuquerque police respond to and investigate officer-involved shootings.

Davis’ legislation would call for an agency other than the Albuquerque Police Department to take the lead into shootings by APD officers and in-custody death investigations. It also calls for the city to try to get the Attorney General’s Office or a district attorney outside of the 2nd Judicial District to review the investigations and decide whether charges are warranted.

Davis said he relied on the experience he had going through a police shooting and his years as an officer when crafting the bill, which hasn’t been considered yet by the full council.

He described himself as a “zero-tolerance” cop – “the kind you wouldn’t want to pull you over,” he said – and added that he often led the D.C. police department in arrests, wrote lots of tickets for traffic and marijuana violations and was involved in the previously mentioned shooting.

“I came from a conservative background,” he told the Journal in an interview. “If you broke the laws, there are consequences for that.”

The union view

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said the union believes Davis’ experience as an officer will serve the city well.

But he said the union has raised issues with much of the police-related legislation that Davis has introduced.

“When it comes to Pat Davis, I think the city of Albuquerque and the council benefit from having a councilor who’s been a police officer and has an understanding of some of the more intimate aspects of being a police officer,” Willoughby said.

“But I wish he’d give the rank and file more consideration. The best way to come up with plans is to actually have conversations with the people who would be affected by the legislation.”

Davis said he’s had several conversations with Willoughby and regular officers about his proposals and believes both would better serve the department in the long run.

“Shaun does a great job advocating for officers. But there are places where he and I disagree about what direction the department is headed,” Davis said.

City officials have said the settlement agreement between the city and the Department of Justice, which outlines a series of reforms police have to make, describes how police should investigate police shootings and that Davis’ bill would be at odds with that agreement.

After about three years with the D.C. force, Davis left the department in December 2004, several months after his shooting, and became a lieutenant for the University of New Mexico campus police. He said the shooting made him re-evaluate certain aspects of policing.

“It did sort of impact me,” he said. “Are we really doing the best thing in the world here, arresting the same people every day?”

DOJ reforms

At the time of Davis’ shooting, the Metropolitan D.C. police were in the middle of a reform effort instigated by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which found the department too often used excessive force, including in police shooting cases. The department responded to the shooting in a way that was outlined in the settlement agreement between the DOJ and D.C. police, Davis said.

Albuquerque police are currently involved with a similar reform that also was brought on by a DOJ investigation into Albuquerque police use of force.

He said that gives him a unique perspective on the reform process underway in Albuquerque.

Davis said that after his shooting he had to take a mandatory three months of administrative leave and complete therapy sessions.

He said it took him about a month to realize the gravity of the situation and to realize that he needed additional time to decompress.

“The stuff hits you about a month out and it takes a little while to work through.

“I should not have gone and worked in that neighborhood again (shortly after the shooting) because I was a little antsy,” he said. “You look at everybody and think, ‘Is this going to lead to another shooting?’ ”

Davis said a group of D.C. officers trained by the DOJ completed the investigation and submitted the case to a federal grand jury, which produced a report on the shooting before Davis returned to work.

Davis has called for police shootings to be investigated by law enforcement agencies that don’t employ the shooter. The City Council Finance and Government Operations Committee approved the legislation without a recommendation last month and it will be considered by the full council.

“I think having the outside people do the work provides community confidence in what happened,” he said.

There are currently more than 30 such shooting cases – by Albuquerque police, U.S. marshals and sheriff’s deputies – that are waiting for a formal announcement on whether officers will be charged in the cases.

The delay hurts public confidence in the process, Davis said.

“The big questions were answered within 90 days,” Davis said of his shooting. “If there was a problem, they weren’t going to let me go back. And if there wasn’t a problem, they have to let the community know that it’s OK.”

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