ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A defiant police union President Joey Sigala said late Friday that the union will continue to financially support officers who have been involved in shootings, despite calls earlier in the day from the mayor and police chief for the practice to stop.
Mayor Richard Berry said in a statement that he was “shocked” to learn of the practice and said it “needs to end now,” while Police Chief Ray Schultz called the payments “troubling.”
A Journal story published Friday revealed that the union had paid more than $10,000 to officers involved in shootings, dating to the start of 2010.
In all, 23 APD officers shot people during 20 incidents last year and the year before. Fifteen of those shootings were fatal.
Internal union financial documents obtained by the Journal show that 20 of the officers received union payments. Of those, 16 received $500, two were paid $300, one received $800 and a payment of $1,000 went to one officer.
The documents did not indicate whether officers involved in three shootings this year also received checks, but APOA leaders on Thursday explained and defended the practice.
Outside an emergency meeting of the union board at Albuquerque Police Officers Association headquarters Downtown, Sigala said the union has made cash payments and supported in other ways officers involved in shootings and other “critical incidents” for more than 20 years.
Sigala said he did not know whether the payments were made in nearly every shooting case — as they have been during his tenure as president — under previous union administrations.
But he said the practice has been well-known among rank-and-file police officers, as well as the department’s “upper administration.”
On Thursday, Schultz said he was not aware of the practice, adding that it was not in place when he was a member of the union and that he did not receive any money from the APOA when he was involved in a shooting after an armed robbery in 1986.
On Friday, he issued a statement through a spokeswoman.
“What we have learned about this practice thus far is troubling,” the statement said. “We support our officers when they are placed in these critical incidents. However, we recognize the union is further putting these officers in an untenable situation that we don’t agree with.”
Asked Friday whether Schultz specifically knew about the payments, Sigala said: “The chief has been the chief for a long time.”
Sigala said he and union Vice President Felipe Garcia have been making decisions on whether officers involved in shootings should get financial support. Going forward, he said, the entire 20-member union board will decide on a case-by-case basis which officers will get money.
The payments are limited to $500, Sigala said, adding that larger amounts shown in the documents mean officers also have done other union work.
Berry criticized the payments.
“I cannot stand aside and condone this practice — it needs to end now,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. “We all support our fine officers, but I have directed Chief Schultz to work with the union to ensure this practice no longer continues.”
The mayor declined through a spokeswoman to elaborate.
Sigala said Berry has “no idea what it’s like” to be a police officer faced with a decision about using deadly force and should not have condemned the payments out of hand — especially without speaking with union leaders.
Sigala and Garcia said in a statement Thursday that the payments were to cover some expenses for officers who have been involved in “critical incidents” and their families “to find a place to have some privacy and time to decompress outside the Albuquerque area.”
The father of one of the men fatally shot by an APD officer in the past few years described the payments as “bounty.”
The city provides counseling for officers involved in shootings and other critical incidents, and all officers are placed on leave with pay after a shooting.
City leaders “understand that supporting officers is important,” Sigala said. “So do we.”
The documents obtained by the Journal were prepared by union Treasurer Matt Fisher earlier this month after members demanded to see a breakdown of how APOA money was being spent.
The demands came after Fred Mowrer, the union’s lawyer, sent an email to board members saying $259,000 had been spent on salaries and “union work” during the past two years — at a time when the APOA was supposed to be marshaling its resources in anticipation of a court battle against the Berry administration over police contracts.
The union sued Berry in 2010, contending he illegally backed out of an agreement signed by the previous administration to raise APD pay. The city won the first round, but the union appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which hasn’t yet ruled.
APOA members voted last week to hire an outside firm to audit the union’s finances for the past two years and to require more financial accountability. Members will also consider next month whether the president’s and vice president’s union salaries should be cut.
The moves followed revelations from Sigala at a March 15 APOA meeting that he and Garcia have paid themselves more in salary from union dues than they previously acknowledged publicly, and that Sigala’s wife was paid about $6,000 for working on special projects and filling in as a temporary secretary.
One union member confirmed that Sigala and Garcia said during the meeting that they had paid themselves about $36,000 and $28,000, respectively, in salaries funded by dues last year.
Sigala last month told the Journal he receives about $26,000 annually for union work — on top of his $52,374 APD salary — and Garcia makes $19,500 a year plus his city salary, which is the same as Sigala’s.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal