APD Shield Unit Needs To Work On Homicide, Vehicular Homicides, Gangs and Vice Felony Cases For Preliminary Hearings
In February 2018 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) created the “Sheild Unit” and it is now expanding the program. The Shield Unit assists APD Police Officers to prepare cases for trial and prosecution by the District Attorney’s office. The unit originally consisted of 3 para legals and is now being expanded to 12 under the 2019-2020 city budget that takes effect July 1, 2019.
According to a June 6, 2019 press release issued by the city, the duties and responsibilities of the Shield Unit are:
“In addition to providing police reports [to the DA’s office], the unit orders and provides the audio from 911 calls and dispatch logs, all reports and dispatch records mentioned in any report, all documents referenced, copies of any photos/CDs/DVDs/USBs which are tagged into evidence, and copies of any items tagged into evidence which can be copied, … They often contact businesses for any surveillance video of events, and receipts for damage which occurred. All of this together provides the DA with a solid case to prosecute.”
The city press release proclaims that throughout 2018, the Shield Unit provided discovery documents for 2,871 felony cases. So far this year it has provided discovery for 2,787 felony cases. The Shield Unit works on felony cases for officers across the department, except in cases involving homicide, vehicular homicide, gangs and vice. The unit is expected to work on discovery for about 6,000 cases by the end of the year.
SUCCESS OF SHIELD UNIT
An analysis of the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice System prepared for the New Mexico legislature found that felony indictments increased after the Shield Unit was created. According to the July Criminal justice study, out of 1,100 felony cases charged in Bernalillo County in March and April of 2018, approximately 600 completed felony cases were turned in by APD’s Shield Unit team. 80% of those cases were successfully indicted which was up from 50% before the Shield Unit was formed.
According to the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice study:
“Since the [Shield Unit] … began work, the … new felonies successfully indicted by the … [2nd Judicial District Attorney Office] increased from 50% to 80%, a statistically significant increase … It is highly likely that some of this success is attributable to the work of the APD [Shield Unit], although improvement or changes in other processes could also have contributed. “
According to Deputy Chief Harold Medina:
“APD is turning over quality cases to the District Attorney’s Office, which helps lead to indictments and successful prosecutions. Just as important, it frees up our officers to spend more time on patrol and doing community policing, rather than doing administrative work that can take hours for every case.”
According to 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Michael Patrick prosecutors have seen the time it takes for discovery to be submitted reduced from weeks to days, a change the DA’s office attributes in part to the paralegals processing and organizing case files.
THE ON-GOING SAGA BETWEEN DA RAUL TORREZ AND THE COURTS
Since mid-2015 the Bernalillo County 2nd District Court has been shifting from grand jury use to implementing “preliminary hearing” schedule. From day one of being sworn in as DA, Torrez has opposed the shift to preliminary hearings. In May, 2019 District Attorney Raul Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wrote a joint letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court requesting it to intervene and stop the plans of 2nd Judicial District Court (SJDC) to shift away from the use of grand jury system to a preliminary hearing system.
The District Court provided an extensive amount of statistics to the Supreme Court that the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raul Torrez has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries and the shift from grand jury hearings was necessary. The Supreme Court responded to the Torrez-Keller letter refusing to intervene but urging District Attorney Torrez to work with the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (BCCJCC) to resolve his concerns about ongoing cuts to the grand jury system.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Deputy Chief Harold Medina’s comment that the Shield Unit “frees up our officers to spend more time on patrol and doing community policing, rather than doing administrative work that can take hours for every case” is just plain wrong and he should know better. It is fully uniformed police officers with their police vehicles who are assigned to field services after making bids for assignment and who do community policing and take calls for service, not APD Detectives. .
Violent crimes that are the most violent and serious cases, such as murder, first-degree sexual assault, human trafficking, first-degree robbery, crimes involving a firearm are investigated by APD Detectives assigned to specialized units. The detectives do not take run of the mill calls for service such as making DWI arrests, issuing traffic citations nor doing community policing. APD Detectives assigned to the specialized units are the ones that need the help from the Shield Unit to prepare for preliminary hearings.
The Shield Unit does not works on felony cases involving homicide, vehicular homicide, gangs and vice. That should change immediately and the Shield Units one and only priority should be preparing cases for preliminary hearings for APD and the DA’s Office and not grand jury.
The conversion process from grand jury to preliminary hearings by the 2nd Judicial District Court has been going on since 2015 yet District Attorney Raul Torrez has resisted it. Based upon the last correspondence from the New Mexico Supreme Court to District Attorney Raul Torrez his office appears to have no other choice but to start and cooperate and schedule preliminary hearings.
Preliminary hearings should be the mandatory approach to charge all violent crime cases, including homicides, rapes, armed robberies and domestic violence cases by the District Attorney. With the help of the APD Shield Unit, DA Raul Torres should be able to get his office’s 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate down to more respectable levels. What would also help would be for Torrez to fill the 50 vacancies he has in his office which includes 17 at will attorney positions.