Friday, August 28, 2009
Police Chief Says He Had No Idea of Reserves' Actions
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said Thursday he was unaware that his uncertified volunteer police officers were signing citations and making arrests on their own.
He also pledged to investigate each case.
"I was unaware there were cases in which only the reserve officer signed the citation," Schultz said. "Now that I am aware of that, I am investigating those cases.
"I believe (that) in order for a citation to be written under state law, both officers have to sign it."
Schultz's administration previously stood behind the reserve program. The police chief pointed to city ordinance giving reserves the same powers as certified officers. But the ordinance conflicts with state law, which says only salaried police officers can issue citations.
In January, Schultz lobbied for a proposed change in state law that would have allowed reserves to issue traffic citations. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, failed.
Albuquerque Police Department reserve officers have made 47 arrests and issued 42 traffic tickets since 2003, according to documents obtained by the Journal.
Schultz recently suspended the reserve program after questions about its legality were raised.
When asked about the legislation that its sponsor said was intended to allow reserve officers to make arrests at DWI checkpoints, Schultz said he supported it at the request of the governor's DWI adviser not because he thought it was needed to allow reserve officers to issue citations.
"I was there specifically for a change that would allow reserve officers to perform breath tests," Schultz wrote in an e-mail. "That was my goal."
Rehm proposed the bill to eliminate the word "salaried" from state traffic code. Rehm said it was his intent to allow volunteer officers working checkpoints the ability to arrest drunken drivers. The legislation failed.
But Rehm, who is a retired sheriff's deputy and is now a reserve officer with the sheriff's department, says the law is clear that reserves can't sign traffic citations and appear in court. That's why he was trying to change the law.
"A reserve can assist a full-time officer," Rehm said. "But the salary officer is going to have to show up in court and testify to the facts he witnessed and sign the citation."
According to current state law, "no person shall be arrested for violating the Motor Vehicle Code or other law relating to motor vehicles punishable as a misdemeanor except by a commissioned salaried police officer."
APD officials appeared in Santa Fe in support of Rehm's bill, the legislator said.
Only salaried law enforcement officers can legally make arrests, according to the state's law enforcement academy, Attorney General's Office and Public Defender's Office.
State legislative staff wrote a fiscal impact report on Rehm's legislation and said that if reserves were allowed to make traffic arrests, it could "create a problem as a defense attorney could argue that a reserve officer is not a salaried peace officer and therefore the arrest is not legal."
The Attorney General's Office wrote part of the report and referred to statutes that refer to a law enforcement officer is someone who is "salaried."
State officials also noted in the report that the state Supreme Court has defined "law enforcement officer" to mean "salaried" officer.
The Journal found that reserve officers have made 12 domestic violence arrests. Domestic violence cases are prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Thursday she will look at the cases her office prosecuted. She also said she feels APD can investigate the allegations involving the reserves making arrests.
She previously said an independent investigation was warranted, but clarified that APD should do its own independent investigation.
Schultz suspended the reserve program last week and launched an investigation after finding out one reserve, David Young, made 24 arrests while getting paid overtime. Young is also a civilian employee who works on radios.
Schultz has pointed to a city ordinance that gives reserves police powers and an APD policy that gives reserves police powers if accompanied by certified officers. He said the city's legal staff is reviewing what his reserves can do under law.
Attorney Mary Han, who has been appointed by the public defender's office to represent people arrested or cited by reserve officers, said she plans to ask the court to have all of the cases dismissed.