On December 23, the Albuquerque Journal published on its front page, above the fold, a remarkable story entitled “APD looks to curtail police shootings” with the sub headline “Officers have shot 18 people so far this year, resulting in 10 deaths”. The news story reads in part as follows:
“In the midst of a spike in shootings by its officers the Albuquerque Police Department is working to change policies so they can use “less-lethal” force earlier in an encounter – in the hope of preventing the need for deadly force.
Additionally, the department’s executive staff and city attorneys will review this year’s 18 shootings by officers to see if they can identify and address any trends. Among those incidents 10 people were killed and three were injured. In five cases no one was struck.
The number of shootings has alarmed advocates, and discussions of the increase dominated a recent federal court hearing on APD’s reform effort. Last year APD officers shot at 10 people, killing four, injuring five, and missing one.
But Chief Harold Medina said he’s been contemplating changes for a while and APD has already been working on them with the Department of Justice and the independent monitoring team overseeing the reforms.”
The December 23 Journal article quotes APD Chief Medina as follows:
“We had already been trying to change the policy. … But as we heard everybody’s concerns during the [December 6 federal Court] hearing, I really felt there was a way we could do this better. That’s when we got these ideas of we should meet to look at all the cases at once as a whole. … One of my big frustrations right now is our processes take so long – like we identified issues but by the time we get everything approved through everybody it takes months.”
Medina said he wants APD’s executive staff and city attorneys to meet and look for trends among this year’s 18 police shootings and identify changes to be made. Medina said this:
“Right now they go through the individual cases and if somebody there can remember or they tie into something in the past, that’s a benefit and they could try to make it a trend. … We are now purposely putting all the cases in front of them … and they’re going to have little different data points that we could look at and the goal is to look at them all together at the same time and see if they can identify anything that’s of a concern.”
The link to them full Journal article is here:
VIOLENCE AGAINST POLICE OFFICERS ON THE RISE
It was on August 19, 2021 that 4 Albuquerque Police Officers were shot and injured following a shooting in northeast Albuquerque. The shooting happened as officers responded to a robbery by the Dutch Bros. near Mountain and Juan Tabo. Two suspects were arrested.
On August 21, 2021 it was reported that one officer was in critical condition after being shot in the base of the neck above their bulletproof vest. A second officer was shot in the arm, third officer was shot in the center of his bulletproof vest. The fourth officer was injured with either shrapnel or glass in the eye. APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said at the time that an APD service aide rendered aid to the officer that was shot in the arm by using a tourniquet to save the officer’s life.
Several APS schools including Kennedy Middle School, Jackson Middle School, Chelwood Elementary School, Tomasita Elementary School, McCollum Elementary School and Manzano High School were ordered to shelter in place after the shooting. Authorities from Sandoval County, Valencia County, Rio Rancho County, FBI, the Bernalillo County Sherriff Office, NM State Police and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office were called in to assist. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) for its part confirmed that a fatal crash on I-40 in the east mountains involved a person of interest in the case and said the person was fleeing from police when the crash happened.
There has been a rise in violence against police officers at the same time APD recorded the 18 officer involve shootings this year. According the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), in 2021 New Mexico ranked second in the country only behind Montana for the number of officers assaulted per capita and the trend has continued this year. The organization reported it has seen 323 officers shot in the line of duty nationwide this year, a 13% increase since 2019. Of those officers, 60 died. According to the FOP, as of December 22, there were 5 officers shot in the state of New Mexico so far this year.
Albuquerque police Spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said the two may be correlated and he said this:
“That certainly may be a factor. I mean, it’s not lost on us that the violence against police officers is out there. It’s on the increase. Officers are being confronted with dangerous situations. They’re seeing a lot more guns on the streets and people willing to use guns.”
Bob Marinez is the past president of the State Fraternal Order of Police in New Mexico, and he said this:
“It’s a very dangerous situation today. … We’re seeing an increase in attacks on police officers. A police officer can’t go out and have a lunch or dinner without fear of being attacked or assaulted.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
THE COURT APPROVED SETTLEMENT
It was om November 14, 2014 that the City of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the United State Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a stipulated Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) after the DOJ completed an 18th month investigation of APD. The DOJ found that APD had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force and that a “culture of aggression” existed within APD. The Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandates 271 police reforms, the appointment of a Federal Monitor and the filing of Independent Monitor’s reports (IMRs) on APD’s progress implementing the reforms.
On November 9, 2022, Federal Court Appointed Independent Monitor James Ginger filed his 16th Report on APD’s Compliance Levels with the settlement. The 16th reporting period covers the time period of February 1, 2022, through July 31, 2022. The link to review the entire 16th Federal Monitors report is here:
HEARING HELD ON 16TH FEDERAL MONITOR’S REPORT
On December 6, Federal District Court James Browning, who oversees the settlement, held an all-day remote hearing to review the 16th Federal Monitor’s report. The Federal Monitor reported that as of the end of the IMR-16 reporting period, APD’s compliance levels are as follows:
Primary Compliance: 100% (No change)
Secondary Compliance: 99% (No change)
Operational Compliance: 80%. (10% increase from 70%)
Under the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, once APD achieves a 95% compliance rate in the 3 identified compliance levels and maintains it for 2 consecutive years, the case can be dismissed. Originally, APD was to have come into compliance within 4 years and the case was to be dismissed in 2020.
During the December 6 hearing, Federal Monitor James Ginger reported that APD continues to make impressive gains in the compliance levels over the past year. This is a complete reversal of the downward trend found and reported in 3 previous monitor’s reports. Although it was reported during court hearing that APD is making gains in in implementing the reforms, it was also reported that there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before. In 2022, there have so far been 18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal. In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.
A review of shootings by APD police officers between 2018 and 2022 identified three common circumstances:
- When officers are attempting to apprehend violent suspects;
- When individuals are experiencing some kind of mental health episode;
- When people with little criminal history are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and make bad decisions.
Albuquerque Police Department released data that shows there have been 54 police shootings dating back to 2018. Of the cases reviewed, 85% involved people who were armed with a gun or a weapon that appeared to be a firearm. About 55% of the cases involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while only 2 cases in which intoxication did not play a role. Without toxicology tests, it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the remainder of the cases. Statewide, authorities said the number of shootings in which officers opened fire stands at 50 for the year.
Barron Jones, a member of APD Forward and a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said that more transparency is needed to better understand what, if anything, could be done to prevent shooting deaths at the hands of officers. Jones also said that recent cases underscore the need for a statewide use-of-force policy that includes clear, consistent protocols for deescalating interactions with the public “to avoid these kinds of tragic incidents.”
The link to the quoted news source article is here:
The last two years have also been two very violent years in the city. The number of homicides in the city have broken all time records. In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 115 homicides as of December 3, 2022.
The spike in APD police shooting includes the years when the DOJ found that APD had a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force with a finding of a culture of aggression. The increase in APD police officer shootings overshadowed the report on APD’s progress with the reforms and dominated the day long hearing.
Alexander Uballez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, said this about the shootings:
“[My job] will not be complete until there’s a substantial reduction in police shootings and fatalities.”
Paul Killebrew, the deputy chief of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, acknowledged the frustrations. He said that the DOJ wants to see how the city, APD, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, and the Force Review Board respond to the spike. Killebrew said this:
“The increase in officer involved shootings is unacceptable. … You see a spike in officer involved shootings and it feels like we’ve set back the clock by 10 years. … It’s clear from what we’ve heard today that it is inconsistent with the community’s values. … So we need to see action from the Albuquerque Police Department and from the groups [responsible to oversee APD] . From where we sit this is an ongoing crisis. This is an ongoing problem.”
APD Forward includes upwards of 20 organizations who have affiliated with each other in an effort to reform APD and implement the DOJ consent decree terms and reforms. Daniel Williams of APD Forward told Judge Browning that members of his group had been hoping to hear “concrete actionable steps that the city has taken” to address the increase in shootings by officers but were disappointed.
Taylor Rahn, an attorney on contract with the city to assist with implementation of the CASA, urged the court and the public to wait before passing judgment and said this:
“We recognize that concerns about the number of individuals who are suffering from some type of mental health issue during the use of force encounter is a pattern that the community is concerned about… The city will not jump to any conclusions and will allow all of the processes that are in place for independent review of individual incidents, officers and patterns to run their course.”
Over the past 18 months, 2 of the shootings have resulted in an officer being fired for violating APD policies.
Police Chief Harold Medina pointed out that the settlement agreement is meant to assess whether policies are in place to reduce an officer’s likelihood of using deadly force, whether officers are trained in those policies and whether they are being held accountable when they violate them. Medina told the court:
“We will never 100% take out human errors, and we will always have officer misconduct. … This process was started for us to identify the officer misconduct and address the misconduct. … I don’t know if there’s ever been a period of time before in the Albuquerque Police Department when individuals were held as accountable. We will continue to hold individuals accountable. We will continue to monitor our policies. We will continue to monitor our training.”
Chief Medina told Judge Browning he has asked the executive staff and academy directors to see if there are missed opportunities for trainings or other tactics that could be used instead of deadly force.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no doubt that the community should be absolutely alarmed over the fact that there has been a spike in police officer involved shootings given the fact such shootings, and accompanying litigation and judgements against the city, is what brought the Department of Justice to the City in 2013 in the first place. When it comes to APD Police Officer Involved shootings, history is repeating itself despite millions spent and implementation of the settlement reforms over the last 8 years. The community also needs to be alarmed over how violence against police officers is also on the rise.
The city for the last 5 years has broken the record of number of homicides each year. Crime rates in the city are also high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021. These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities. All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft. The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.
It’s because of the city’s overall crime rates that no one should be surprised that there have been more police officer involved shootings this past year and police are finding themselves in more predicaments where they feel the need to protect themselves and not attempt to deescalated a situation and the use of force or not use deadly force.
The reality is that the city can expect the trend of police officer involve shootings to continue even if APD achieves 100% compliance of all 271 mandated police reforms under the settlement.