Public Health New Mexico
4:02 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

Big Picture: APD Shootings

Someone has posted a YouTube video claiming to represent the hacker group Anonymous and promising to launch an assault on the Albuquerque Police Department's websites. 

As a Downtown protest against APD’s use of deadly force concluded Tuesday night, officers opened fire on a man on the Westside. He died Wednesday morning. 

Police Chief Gorden Eden—who's held the position since last month—said the man fired shots at officers first. Witnesses say he was unarmed, and a cell phone video has emerged. APD said officers were responding to a call that the man was threatening a child with a gun

Hundreds of people marched last night to object to APD's killing of James Boyd, who was camping illegally in the Sandia foothills on March 16. Footage of the incident taken from one officer’s helmet cam has gone viral, drawing national attention to Albuquerque’s police force. 

Eden initially said the shooting was justified, but the mayor called that a mistake. Mayor Richard Berry is asking the U.S. Department of Justice and the Las Cruces Police Department to investigate Boyd’s death. Attorney General Gary King has announced that his office will also investigate the latest APD shootings.

APD said an officer trained in crisis intervention was brought to the Sandia foothills to speak with Boyd before he was killed on March 16. The department won’t answer questions about whether that officer was present when he died. 

 APD has shot 37 people since 2010, and 24 of them died.  The Department of Justice has been investigating Albuquerque police’s unreasonable use of deadly force since November 2012.

This is not the first time Albuquerque’s police force has been under scrutiny for its use of force. From 1989 to 1999, 30 fatal officer-involved shootings prompted similar outcry. Two out-of-state experts created what’s known as the Walker/Luna report, which recommended a number of reforms in 1997, many of which have not been adopted.

Demonstrators in Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday, March 25.
Credit Rita Daniels

  Residents again became vocal about the spike in officer-involved shootings around 2010 when APD shot and killed Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III. The city eventually settled that case for $7.95 million. Since then, family members of people killed by police have regularly spoken out at City Council meetings and demanded reform.

The Council voted to request a federal investigation in 2011, but Mayor Berry vetoed the measure. Council President Dan Lewis demanded the mayor fire then-Police Chief Ray Schultz a year ago and began seeking a say in who the city hires to run APD. As things stand, the mayor appoints the police chief. In light of shootings in 2014, the Council is again taking up the cause.

Though there is a Police Oversight Commission and independent review officer that examine complaints against police, the police chief holds the sole authority for disciplining officers. An independent report in 2012 said the commission should have disciplinary power, but Berry disagreed.

A task force appointed by the City Council to examine the city’s police oversight process made recommendations at the end of January. The task force suggested creating a quasi-public civilian agency with a high level of independence that would:

• Investigate complaints

• Recommend disciplinary actions for officers

• Recommend changes to policy and training

• Have access to Internal Affairs data

• Have the authority to subpoena documents and witnesses

A law enforcement think tank released a report on APD in 2011. The Police Executive Research Forum noted that though violent crime and assaults on police officers had gone down, officer-involved shootings and gone up.

Credit Rita Daniels

  No Albuquerque police officer has ever been criminally charged after an on-duty shooting.  The policy of using investigative grand juries—which don’t have the power to indict officers—came under fire in 2012. The process, which had been in place for 30 years, was temporarily suspended, re-instituted, and then suspended again. A new protocol was implemented last year. 

Public health organizations characterize police brutality—and the perception of it—as a public health issue. The National Institutes of Health said police violence can cause communities to "hesitate to summon police assistance in cases of civilian-on-civilian violence, fearing the police might exacerbate the violence or further traumatize victims."

The Student National Medical Association said in a position paper that police brutality must be "recognized, investigated, and acted upon as a serious health concern because of its obvious deleterious effects on individuals, their families and communities."