DOJ Issues Scathing Review Of Albuquerque Police Department' Use Of Force, Tempers It By Prioritizing Officer Safety

from the if-you-don't-like-the-risks,-don't-take-the-job dept

The Albuquerque, New Mexico police department has been a mess for quite some time now. Recently, it has gained national attention for two seemingly unjustified shootings of New Mexico residents. This is in addition to the 37 people the police force has shot since 2010, with 23 confirmed kills. As Ed Krayewski at Reason points out, the APD has shot more people than the NYPD, despite policing a city sixteen times smaller.

The Department of Justice was already investigating the department before the two latest shootings. The first involved a homeless person “illegally” camping, an infraction apparently punishable by death in New Mexico. The officers claimed the man came at them with knives, but video clearly shows him surrendering and attempting to walk down to them before being hit with a concussion grenade, followed shortly by several bullets. As for the danger poised by the knives he was carrying, the 20-30 feet between him and the officers at the beginning of the video (not to mention the difference in altitude) makes this much less of a threat than the reports indicated.


While the city of Albuquerque was still digesting the news of this apparently unjustified shooting, the APD shot another person. The police claimed he fired at them (and they did recover a gun at the scene) but video shot by an onlooker appears to show the man holding something (gun or cellphone) to his own head before shots ring out and he drops to the ground.


These shootings sparked a series of increasingly confrontational protests against the police, as well as drawing the attention of Anonymous, which took down the APD website.

The release of the DOJ’s report is certainly well-timed, if nothing else. Those who have seen the entire thing call it “scathing.” The prepared remarks from the DOJ’s Jocelyn Samuels are certainly damning enough.

Officers use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We found that officers used deadly force against people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious harm to officers or others, and against people who posed a threat only to themselves. In fact, sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force.

We found that officers use other types of less lethal force, especially electronic control weapons, or Tasers, in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked beyond just the use of deadly force and found a significant number of improper uses of force in our review of over 200 force reports generated between 2009 and early 2013. We found that officers routinely fired their Tasers, which discharge 50,000 volts of electricity, against people who were passively resisting and non-threatening or who were unable to comply with orders due to their mental state. Indeed, we found that encounters between police officers and persons with mental illness or in crisis too frequently resulted in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.

The remarks run on for much longer, noting the steps that will be taken to put the APD back in compliance with the Constitution and temper its officers’ tendency to apply as much force as possible in a majority of situations. However, Samuels also takes the time to pat the heads of a police force so out of control the government was forced to step in.

To the women and men of the Albuquerque Police Department, we know your work is difficult and that you face dangers, known and unknown, when you hit the streets every day to keep this city safe. We recognize that many of you are dedicated public servants who wear your badge with distinction. We do not intend our findings today to mean that you must needlessly risk your lives or safety. You must come home safely to your family and loved ones.

This is what Scott Greenfield refers to as the “First Rule of Policing:” make it home safe. Even the DOJ follows it, apparently. But this should be a goal, not a priority. The “dedicated officers” know they’re putting themselves in a dangerous position by taking the job. This doesn’t give them permission to do whatever it takes to save their own lives.

Firemen don’t just walk away from a fire if it looks life-threatening. Soldiers aren’t told they can indiscriminately open fire if things feel a bit sketchy. Airline pilots aren’t encouraged to jettison planes full of people (or over populated areas) in order to assure they “come home safely.” Any other person taking a job that’s potentially life-threatening assumes the risks. Cops somehow don’t. And they use this “rule” as a justification for swift, thoughtless reactions that result in teens carrying Wii controllers getting shot and homeless schizophrenics being beaten to death.

By adding this disclaimer, Samuels partially absolves the APD of all of its wrongdoing. “You did what you had to do to survive.” That attitude isn’t going to fix anything and as long as police officers are encouraged to view their own safety as paramount, excessive force will continue to be applied.

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Comments on “DOJ Issues Scathing Review Of Albuquerque Police Department' Use Of Force, Tempers It By Prioritizing Officer Safety”

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33 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

…noting the steps that will be taken to put the APD back in compliance with the Constitution and temper its officers’ tendency to apply as much force as possible in a majority of situations.

How’s this for a first step:

**

1) All uses of force will be investigated by an outside agency completely independent of the police department and who do not in any way, shape or form answer to the police department. If the findings are believed to be serious enough, the officer’s actions will be forwarded to the court system for appropriate charges and trial.

‘Internal investigations’ will only be allowed after the outside agency has completed their investigation, and only for incidents found to be mild enough to not warrant forwarding to the court system.

**

Apply and enforce actual penalties for use of force, and then police might actually be less eager to bring out the mace/tazers/guns any time they get the slightest bit nervous or just feel like perforating a bystander or two.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As soon as they are found to be acting outside the law they should lose all the protections that come with the job.

Personally I believe it is those protections that cause these problems in the first place but removing them is a task so far beyond the capabilities of career politicians that it can never be more than a utopian dream.

JackOfShadows (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Our prisons simply aren’t equipped to deal with former LEO’s. Any incarceration could be considered a death sentence and if kept in solitary, a sentence to lifelong insanity.

That’s my concern around former law enforcement officer in the criminal (in)justice system. Hell, keeping them alive through trial is remarkable.

On occasion I’ve had a badge and for much of my career authorized to use deadly force. There was no call from what I saw. They should be crucified. My question ia how.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’d feel more sympathy if we weren’t talking about people who took a job to serve and protect the public, and then turned around and stabbed said public in the back and abused their power and authority, in some cases to lethal levels.

You say they’d have a harsh time in jail or in trial, well so does everyone else put through the ‘justice’ system, and barring some hefty corruption on the other side, all they’d have to do to avoid that fate would be not abuse their power and/or break the law, doesn’t seem like too much to ask to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

how the hell can any sane person justify what these, at least 5 armed officers, did to this guy? there is absolutely no reason to have shot him! there is absolutely no reason to have then shot him again! there absolutely no reason to then set a dog on him! there is absolutely no reason to then expect the guy to be able to move his arms into position so he can be handcuffed! this was nothing other than police officers doing what they CAN do, not what they should do!
i wonder what any of those officers would say if the same thing happened to them, while on holiday perhaps? the country concerned would be the biggest ass wipe on the planet and those doing the deed just passing through! disgraceful exhibition of uncalled for police brutality!!

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

We found that officers routinely fired their Tasers, which discharge 50,000 volts of electricity,

I really wish people would stop sensationalizing this. I take 50,000 volt discharges on a daily basis, because of the carpet in the office where I work, and I’m fine. If you’ve ever touched a door handle and gotten a shock that you could feel, see and hear, that was at the very least 40,000 volts of electricity, and probably more.

On the other hand, a 120 volt current from wall power can kill you dead, because voltage is irrelevant. Amps kill, and Tasers have a very low amperage.

hugh mayle (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I call BS on your tasers are harmless explanation. First of all I have never heard of anyone dropping to the ground completely incapacitated on being shocked from touching a doorknob – a taser will easily incapacitate a 300 pound man. I have never heard of someone dying from touching a doorknob – there are dozens of taser related deaths each year.
And if you really believe that tasers are so harmless I’ll make a bet with you – you take one shot to the chest with a taser and I’ll shuffle my feet on the carpet and touch a door knob a 1000 times and we’ll see who comes out the better ok?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What this guy said.

In addition, taser industry apologists need to stop with the misinformation. The taser output is not the same as an electrostatic shock one gets from carpet/doorknob encounters.

Tasers were deployed in law enforcement as an alternative to deadly force, not as a means of controlling a mouthy perp. Now they seem to be used as a sadistic toy for torture freaks.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Since we’re not talking about houses and effects, the only right that the 4th gives that could be violated in a fatal shooting is “The right of the people to be secure in their persons…”

I wish the DoJ would just call that what it is: Murder.

Anonymous Coward says:

By adding this disclaimer, Samuels partially absolves the APD of all of its wrongdoing. “You did what you had to do to survive.”,

Except, no, it doesn’t mean that. In fact, it’s so obvious it doesn’t mean that that tosay it did is kind of weird.

Here you have the DOJ stepping in and doing its job policing the police , issuing a dcathing report, but still you have the above quoted perception.

Look, I am only pointing out a truth that is glaringly obvious- youhave a problem perceiving reality when it comes to ANY story involving the police in ANY way.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except no, that line does in fact essentially wipe away the wrongdoing, because it re-phrases all of it from ‘excessive, unneeded use of force’, which is a crime(well, except when a cop does it apparently), into ‘self-defense’, which is not a crime.

Saying in the report that they use force when it’s excessive, or would unnecessarily escalate the situation is meaningless, if at the end it’s all just hand-waved off as ‘fully justified self-defense’.

Now, I would be pleased as can be to be proven wrong here, and all it would take would be seeing some of the cops who are doing the stuff called out in the report charged, tried, and thrown in jail(remember, this is not just some harmless stuff, people have been assaulted and killed by the police there).

However, I get the strangest feeling not a one of them will face any real punishment(or at most a few ‘not-a-team-player’ sacrificial officers might be tossed under the bus), even with this report, as if the department was really interested in dealing with the sadistic thugs they’ve got on the force, they’d have done it a long time ago, instead of let it get so bad that the freakin’ DOJ thought an investigation was needed.

zip says:

suppressive fire

“Soldiers aren’t told they can indiscriminately open fire if things feel a bit sketchy.”

Actually, soldiers are trained to do exactly that. There’s even a name for it — “suppressive fire”.

For instance, to prevent any possibility of suicide-bombers driving explosive-laden cars near them, US soldiers patrolling the streets of Iraq were instructed to machine-gun any car that got too close for comfort. The locals soon got the message, and whenever an armed US convoy drove through town, people would scatter like roaches.

It was even worse during any ‘offensive’ operation in enemy-held territory. The Abrams tanks leading the charge would blow up all buildings in the city where snipers or scouts might be hiding, such as streetcorners and hills and other strategic locations, and of course the tallest buildings in an area (mosque minarets were standard target practice) . As well as spraying a wide arc of machinegun fire. All this even when no shots were fired against them.

This was commonly accepted practice in Iraq, per the US military’s official rules of engagement. It was only when the Blackwater Massacre resulted in double-digit casualties in a single civilian shooting incident — which, unlike most shootups, there was zero justification — the US commercial news media finally started paying attention.

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