ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The Albuquerque Police Department needs to stop shooting at vehicles, revamp its internal affairs unit and teach its officers how to better deal with mentally ill suspects, the U.S. Justice Department said in a harsh report released this week.
But just when and how those reforms will be adopted, as in other cities under scrutiny, remains unclear.
Talks between the Justice Department and Albuquerque officials began Friday and could last for months before the two sides agree on an outline for reform. If an agreement is not reached, federal officials have the option of suing the city.
According to the report, Albuquerque officers too frequently used deadly force on people who posed a minimal threat and used a higher level of force too often on those with mental illness, often violating their constitutional rights.
Mayor Richard Berry said the exact cost of a reform plan is still unknown. However, city officials acknowledge a possible consent decree could leave Albuquerque with a bill in the millions, as similar agreements in New Orleans and Portland, Ore.
“Resources will be made available,” Berry said.
On Friday, Berry announced that former ACLU lawyer Scott Greenwood and former Cincinnati police Chief Tom Streicher would lead a team to negotiate with the Justice Department about reform outlines. The two men are former adversaries from a U.S. Justice Department investigation into Cincinnati police and were key figures in helping Cincinnati craft similar reforms in a 2002 agreement.
Since then, the pair has created a consulting group to help police departments with consent decrees.
Greenwood said the Justice Department report into Albuquerque police outlines “fixable” solutions for the city and may not require the millions of dollars needed for consent decrees in other cities. “Some cities have extremely high costs because the failures of the agency…are city-wide and may involve a culture of corruption,” Greenwood said. “You don’t have that in Albuquerque.”
The Albuquerque Police Department doesn’t need a “generational shift” to weed out corruption but it policy changes are required, Greenwood said.
As the city works to come to an agreement with the Justice Department, state lawmakers also may be forced to examine various New Mexico laws.
For example, New Mexico lawmakers are coming under pressure to revisit a “Kendra’s Law” - a proposal that would require some mentally ill patients to take medication or face hospitalization.
New Mexico is one of only five states without a “Kendra’s Law,” and advocates say without it, police will increasingly find themselves in situations like the fatal March standoff with James Boyd, the 38-year-old transient who was shot and killed by police.
That shooting launched a violent protest in the city last month and convinced Berry to ask the Justice Department to quickly finish up its probe into Albuquerque police.
Some also want New Mexico to look at state laws on hiring officers and deputies - especially since some officers involved in the 37 Albuquerque shootings since 2010 had questionable histories at other agencies.
Darren White, a former New Mexico Secretary of Public Safety, said lawmakers should immediately scrap a law that allows departments to hire officers or deputies for a year without having them going to an academy.
“This isn’t the Wild West anymore,” White said. “We have to change.”
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