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Editorial: APD using social media as modern billy club

The Albuquerque Police Department’s decision to use its official Facebook page and the city’s website to release selective crime information, criticize judges and chastise the media seriously damages the department’s credibility.

At the same time, it undermines the public trust police have been trying to rebuild for nearly three years.

And perhaps most inexcusable of all it incites divisive and vicious comments among members of the public.

APD’s Facebook followers have posted comments including, “I would most definitely punch this judge in the face” and “I hope the next victim is a member of the judge’s family.”

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APD’s response? It left the comments up, turning a blind eye to threats of the kind of violence APD combats every day.

The reason for using social media in such an inappropriate way?

“We have to tell the whole story of what’s happening in our community,” says APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza. “There are a lot of fingers pointed at APD, APD, APD, crime rates, crime rates, statistics, statistics, data. What is the entire encompassing story behind all of those things?”

APD Police Chief Gorden Eden has yet to speak out against his department’s misuse of social media.

And he publicly admits he is ready to second-guess judges, telling an innkeepers’ association recently, “I know it sounds like I’m blaming (the rising crime rate) all on the judges. Because I am.” Eden then blamed negative media coverage for his difficulties in hiring police officers.

Maybe Eden should take a look in the mirror. A reminder:

• His officers shot 37 people – 24 of them fatally – from 2010 through 2014.

• An ensuing U.S. Department of Justice investigation found systemic problems within the department, including a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression.”

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• Eden’s department’s officer-involved shootings have cost the city, i.e., taxpayers, nearly $20 million in settlements over a five-year period. Victims have included a suicidal military veteran, a mentally ill man in his parents’ backyard and a homeless schizophrenic camper.

• An APD lieutenant shot an APD detective multiple times in a botched drug sting, resulting in a $6.5 million settlement.

• The city recently settled one of its largest cases ever against a then-APD off-duty officer involved in a fatal accident after speeding through a red light.

The DOJ credited Journal coverage for shining a light on APD’s problems and paving the way for the investigation and agreement. Since then, APD has instituted reforms, established training protocols, forged a working relationship with the new district attorney and appeared much more responsive to those it is entrusted with serving and protecting.

So why is it now limiting constructive discussion of departmental actions, pointing fingers, passively condoning violence, second-guessing judges and bullying the media for reporting its actions?

Those responsible for allowing the department’s tacit approval of gutter-level internet trolls need to be held accountable.

Posting limited information via Facebook enables APD to avoid pesky questions from reporters. Answering questions and taking criticism isn’t fun, but it’s law enforcement’s responsibility to address public concerns and establish trust with the community – things its leadership was told to do under the DOJ agreement.

And so far Mayor Richard Berry, who hired and can fire Eden, has been silent. A Journal request for comment from his office on APD’s use of social media was directed to another APD spokesman, who admitted in one particular case that “our staff used social media in an editorial manner. This is not the highest and best use of social media and we understand that.”

Granted, everyone is frustrated when they see a repeat offender out of jail and walking the streets. Last year the city announced a plan to have volunteers monitor court hearings to highlight repeat offenders for judges and prosecutors.

A periodic news conference releasing the results of such observations would be a professional way to deal with this concern.

Not this use of social media as a vehicle to attack.

APD has spent more than three years rebuilding public trust along with a better department and a better system.

It would be a crime to see it sacrifice its many steps forward with this destructively juvenile step back.

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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