- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Days after violent protests led officers to launch tear gas at hundreds of unruly demonstrators, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on Wednesday requested the Justice Department to step in and help the city overhaul its troubled police force.

The Republican mayor asked the DOJ in a letter “to expedite and complete” its current review of Albuquerque police and work with the city to develop a new monitoring proposal.

He said “such a plan will help bring about any necessary system improvements and accountability measures.”

Berry defended recent reforms, including a requirement that all officers wear lapel cameras, strict new hiring guidelines and mandatory reviews for all officer shootings. But he called the fatal police shooting of 38-year-old James Boyd in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains “a game changer.”

A publicly released video of that shooting sparked the 12-hour protest by hundreds of angry people Sunday. Officials have said Boyd appeared to be surrendering before officers opened fire.

“This was a hard letter to write,” Berry said at a news conference. “Nothing in this letter should be construed as an indication that I have lost my faith in the men and woman, and the leadership of the Albuquerque Police Department.”

Police Chief Gorden Eden said he supported the mayor’s effort.

The Justice Department said in an emailed statement Wednesday that it is “working expeditiously to complete the investigation” and already has been providing preliminary feedback and technical assistance to the Police Department.

Berry said the city needs to make changes soon, but the federal review needs to wrap up first. The DOJ launched its civil rights investigation into Albuquerque police over allegations of excessive force and an increase in police shootings. Officers have been involved in 37 shootings since 2010, including Boyd’s death.

The FBI said last week it would open an investigation into the shooting of Boyd.

Berry detailed several changes he and Eden would like to see, including hiring a fourth deputy chief to oversee Justice Department reforms, training all officers on dealing with suspects with mental health issues and creating an evaluation system to monitor officers with a history of deadly encounters.

In addition, Berry said he was asking state lawmakers to consider various reforms aimed at helping state residents battling mental illness.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which has been critical of Albuquerque police, welcomed Berry’s call for reform.

“Mayor Berry’s call for federal intervention in Albuquerque’s troubled police department is a good first step (toward) reducing the excessive use of force and officer involved shootings in our city,” ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson said. “It is a shame that the city’s leadership took so long to respond with aggressive action.”


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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