The New Mexico American Civil Liberties (ACLU) is questioning the wisdom of “Metro Surge Operation” involving the 50 New Mexico State Police sent to Albuquerque to help the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) to deal with the City’s violent crime rates. The ACLU essentially argues that the New Mexico State Police sent here to help APD in the metro surge need to follow the identical requirements, training and procedures as the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is required to follow under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). The ACLU ignores the big picture as to why the surge is needed and ignores that the New Mexico State Police are not under a consent decree. There has been no finding of a “culture of aggression” within the New Mexico State Police as APD. There has been no finding that the New Mexico State Police have engaged in unconstitutional policing practices.
THE METRO SURGE OPERATION
On Friday, May 10, 2019, in reaction to the murder of a 21-year-old college student, Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Michael Geier, UNM President Garnett Stokes, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez held a joint press conference to announce initiatives aimed at making the Nob Hill Business District safer and reducing violent crime up and down the Central corridor. The initiatives announced at the May 10 press conference included assigning an additional 50 New Mexico State Police officers from across the state to work out of Albuquerque. Seven NM Sate police officers already work here which brought the number up to 57 State Police.
According to APD Chief Michael Geier, a couple of days of planning led up to the Metro Surge Operation involving the 50 State Police to patrol mainly along Central. State Police officers have statewide jurisdiction in virtually every city and small community in New Mexico. According to Geier the initial plan is to keep the 50 officers in Albuquerque for about 45 days through the Fourth of July. Chief Geier noted:
“State Police is in our city all the time. … Most of their emphasis is in traffic enforcement, but they also are with the auto theft unit. … This is just a continuation of the assistance they give us at times. This one just happens to be a little greater magnitude.”
Six days after the governor sent 50 additional New Mexico State Police officers to Albuquerque, two of those state police officers fired their weapons in separate incidents in Albuquerque. The shootings were unrelated. Both shootings started with attempted traffic stops in different areas of Albuquerque, one in the southwest part of the city and the other in the northeast.
REASON FOR THE “Metro Surge Operation”
Since May 4, 2019, there have been 26 homicides in Albuquerque. Thus far, 15 of the homicides remain unsolved. Law enforcement authorities report that there have been 114 people shot in 112 days in Bernalillo County including the city of Albuquerque through April 23, which is a 36% increase over last year during the same time period.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has implemented a data collection program called “Ceasefire”. Ceasefire is supposedly a data-driven approach to combat gun violence. According to the DA’s office a breakdown of data from January 1, 2019, to April 23, 2019 is as follows:
There were 101 shootings in which individuals were injured or killed, several of which had multiple victims
114 people were shot, 17 of whom were killed.
95 incidents happened in the city.
6 incidents happened outside the city but within the county.
2 people were shot by law enforcement.
10 cases were self-inflicted shootings.
The shortest time between shootings was 16 minutes.
The longest time was a five-and-a-half-day stretch in early January.
The average number of shootings was just over one shooting per day.
Suspects have been identified in 42 cases, although it’s unclear how many have resulted in an arrest.
There were 27 more shootings so far in 2019 compared to the same time period in 2018 when there were 74 shootings.
As a result of the increase in violent crime in Albuquerque, city and APD officials and businesses reach out and met with Governor Michell Luna Grisham for help.
TWO INCIDENTS EXAMINED
Both of the May 16 State Police officer-involved shootings occurred in the evening and an hour apart. No officers were injured in either shooting, but one officer hurt his shoulder when his vehicle collided with a civilian vehicle during a “hot pursuit”. State Police Officials said one suspect was shot in the shoulder and said they were still searching for others who escaped after the second shooting.
It was a New Mexico State Police officer from Gallup who was part of the Metro Surge Operation who pursued a suspect in a stolen vehicle and who ran a traffic stop. The State Police officer chased the vehicle into a cul-de-sac and shot at it after the driver did a U-Turn and drove toward him. The State Police Officer shot the suspect in the shoulder.
Both the pursuit and the shooting were in violation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) new standard operating procedure policies written for its use and part the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). The CASA was agreed to in 2014 after a federal investigation found a “culture of aggression” within APD and a pattern of unconstitutional use of force. APD’s policy on use of force under the consent decree is very specific and prohibits shooting at a moving vehicle unless the occupant is using lethal force other than the vehicle itself or there is no other reasonable alternative.
The second incident also involved a pursuit, and a pursuit intervention technique maneuver, by a State Police officer before he fired at the vehicle. The driver, later identified as 40-year-old Daniel Franco, escaped capture when the State Police Officer crashed his vehicle into a bystander’s vehicle. An arrest warrant has been issued for Franco.
ACLU CHALLENGES STATE POLICE ROLE
The two shootings within one hour of each other, six days into the “Metro Surge Operation” and by the same law enforcement agency are now being questioned by APD Police reform advocates, police critics and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Concerns are being raised about how the New Mexico State Police officers will be handling calls for service in Albuquerque during the surge operation while at the same time APD Officers are operating under separate mandated reforms of a federal court approved settlement agreement (CASA) .
Peter Simonsen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU) is arguing that the Metro Surge Operation is proving problematic when it comes to the federal court approved settlement (CASA) agreement with APD. According to Simonson:
“I think we feel like the State Police need to be held to the exact same standard that APD officers are held to and that the governor and the city should be giving the people of Albuquerque some assurances that will be the case.” Simonson proclaims he does not want the city to return to the days when police shootings were happening “practically every month”.
THE CASA REFORMS
In November, 2019, it will be a full 5 years has expired since the city entered into the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the Department of Justice (DOJ). New “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies were written and implemented with all APD sworn receiving training on the policies. All APD sworn have received at least 40 hours crisis management intervention training. APD has created a “Use of Force Review Board” that oversees all internal affairs investigations of use of force and deadly force.
Sweeping changes ranging from APD’s SWAT team protocols, to banning chokeholds, to auditing the use of every Taser carried by officers and have been completed. “Constitutional policing” practices and methods as well as mandatory crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have now been implemented at the APD Police Academy with all sworn also having received the training. APD has adopted a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for all use of force incidents. Personnel procedures have been implemented detailing how use of force cases are investigated. APD has also revised and updated its policies on the mandatory use of lapel cameras by all sworn police officers.
According to ACLU Executive Director Simonson:
“APD officers have found that [the CASA reforms] to be quite challenging, and using force appropriately obviously has been a focus over the past four years. To expect State Police officers to respond appropriately under those conditions – when they haven’t been given the kinds of training and aren’t held to all the policies APD is now held to – only sets them up to fail and only creates an explosive situation where we well could see many more police shootings in the future.”
New Mexico State Police Spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn in response to the ACLU had this to say:
“Other agencies policing within the city, including Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police, are subject to their own policies and procedures. … While the NMSP already has jurisdiction in the city, the additional officers are helping boost the number of uniformed law enforcement personnel on our streets while we continue to recruit and hire more officers. We hold our personnel to high standards and are working closely with NMSP to make sure they are working in ways that contribute to our ultimate goal: reducing violent crime in our community.”
NOT ALL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES AND POLICIES ARE THE SAME
There are numerous law enforcement agencies that work within Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque. Those law enforcement agencies include the New Mexico State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Customs and even a few Indian Tribal law enforcement agencies.
All the law enforcement agencies have their own minimum qualifications to be hired, policies, procedures and have different standards. Virtually every single federal, state, county law enforcement agency that work within the city and county boundaries have jurisdiction and authority. City, County and State Law enforcement agencies have overlapping authority and co-equal authority to arrest and enforce state and local laws.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The ACLU proclaims it does not want the city to return to the days when police shootings were happening “practically every month”. Citizens of Albuquerque want to get away with the shooting of people every day by violent felons. The City of Albuquerque is facing a serious violent crime problem with an overwhelmed and understaffed police department. One thing that is all too often voiced about the CASA reforms is that they have gone too far and APD sworn police are hamstrung by the reforms to the point they are reluctant to be proactive as other law enforcement agencies can be in the city. Notwithstanding, the Federal Monitor has reported that APD has in fact made significant progress during the past 18 months in the implementation of the reforms. The ACLU argument that APD officers have found that the CASA reforms to be quite challenging seems to be inflated or now unfounded given the Ninth Federal Monitors Report filed on May, 8 2019. You can read the report in the below blog article link.
It is understandable that the ACLU as well as APD police oversight advocates would raise concerns about the State Police officer involved shootings given the history of APD, the Department of Justice investigation of APD and the finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD resulting in federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement. However, the CASA and the reforms are APD and the City’s problem, not the problem of other law enforcement agencies. There is no legitimate reason for any law enforcement agency to agree to the CASA requirements imposed on APD because of APD’s history of a “culture of aggression.” It is likely those agencies would not even bother to help APD under such demands.
APD is the only law enforcement agency in the State of New Mexico that is operating under a federal court approved settlement agreement. It is not reasonable to infer that that those agencies are not properly trained in following sound constitutional policing practices. It is ludicrous and not at all realistic to demand that any and all law enforcement agencies that assist or participate in law enforcement initiatives to help APD, such as the metro surge operation, to follow the requirement and training mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement. In other words, you need to use what ever water you can get to put out a fire.
Coordinated and targeted law enforcement initiatives such as the “Metro Surge Operation” are a very common practice for any number of law enforcement agencies, including APD. Such initiatives are very common against repeat violent offenders and the illicit drug trade. The “Metro Surge Operation” is the very type of law enforcement practices needed in Albuquerque in an attempt to bring down our out of control violent crime rates. With a little luck, the New Mexico State Police Officers will not be needed come July 5, 2019 when the surge is supposed to end.