The Albuquerque Police Department is in the national news, again, and I bet you can guess why.
More than forty people have been shot by APD since 2010 and just as Mayor Berry said the department was turning a corner, the district attorney announced murder charges against two officers involved in one of those shootings. APD opted to respond by inventing charges against the DA. The investigator in that case was caught on tape saying it was a “weak case” but would “ruin a career.”
So where did all of this come from?
Here’s the top take aways from this week’s lengthy Rolling Stone feature on APD:First some background:
In the past five years, the police department of Albuquerque, a city of just 550,000, has managed to kill 28 people — a per-capita kill rate nearly double that of the Chicago police and eight times that of the NYPD. Until now, not one of the officers in those 28 killings had been charged with any crime.
And here’s where the new “us vs. them” mentality came from:
… [M]any observers trace Albuquerque’s recent problems with excessive force to a decade ago. In 2005, officers Richard Smith and Michael King were killed in the line of duty by a man they were picking up for a mental-health evaluation. King had been an academy classmate of Police Chief Ray Schultz, who, in a tearful press conference after the killings, called it “one of the saddest days in the history of the Albuquerque Police Department.” Inside the department, former officers say, the deaths were a turning point: Officer safety became the order of the day.
“It wasn’t about the mission,” says a former SWAT member. “The new culture was: ‘anybody you could shoot.’ “
Thomas Grover, a lawyer and retired APD officer who now represents cops in personnel disputes with the department, says, “The general directive of the department became, ‘You do what you’ve got to do to go home at night — and forget the citizens.’ ”
At the same time APD was hiring officers they would have previously rejected:
“Standards were getting lower and lower,” says retired APD Lt. Steven Tate, who was the director of training at the police academy at the time. “They were hiring people that other agencies in New Mexico wouldn’t take.”
The department didn’t formally change any hiring policies, Tate says. Instead, it bent the existing rules. Even in 2003, when Tate joined the meetings where the final hire decisions were made, the process was being warped. He recalls a conversation with members of the psychological staff tasked with screening applicants to make sure they were fit to be officers. “They said, ‘[Department brass] are always pressuring us to let people through,’ ” Tate says.
With the push to hire more cops, things got worse, according to Tate. The department made a number of dubious lateral hires — officers coming in from other law-enforcement departments. Previously, the APD had required all applicants, including laterals, to submit to thorough background checks as well as psychological exams. In 2006, the department began waiving those requirements for lateral hires. In testimony last year, Peter DiVasto, a psychologist then employed by the APD, said that during this period, “people were hired that . . . never came through our unit.”
Among those hires were four officers who had just quit or been fired from the state police for double-dipping — getting paid for outside work even as they were on the clock for the state. They were among the contractors teaching classes at Coyote Canyon, a training site southeast of Albuquerque run by the Department of Energy where former Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators rub shoulders with state and local police officers, taking part in realistic live-fire drills and courses with names like “Rolling Day/Night Convoy Ambushes.” Though some former APD officers defend the realistic shoot-house training and expert instruction, others wonder whether such a militarized, gun-focused environment is a healthy part of training for young, impressionable officers. “Looking back,” one former officer told local KRQE News 13 reporter Jeff Proctor when he investigated police training at Coyote Canyon, “I’m really not sure how convoy ambushing translated to working as a police officer.”…
One of those lateral hires was Keith Sandy, who was carrying both badge and gun when he killed James Boyd on the mountainside last March.
Then the department began to prioritize SWAT and militarized tactics over community policing:
Around the same time that [former SWAT officer named] John began to notice the anyone-you-can-shoot ethos creeping into SWAT — once a competitive assignment only available to seasoned officers — the unit began accepting green cops with as little as three years out of the academy. John says he watched in dismay as these younger, impressionable officers absorbed the new culture of violence on SWAT. “It reminded me of Animal Farm,” he says. “The dog, she has the puppies, and Napoleon came along and took the puppies away, and then the puppies show up again at the end, and they’re, like, these vicious killers. It was like that.”
John maintains that most Albuquerque cops are careful, restrained and good. But the changes on SWAT provoked a moral crisis for him. His whole career, he’d pushed back against the characterization of police as violent thugs. “I understand: We represent authority. ‘Fuck authority’ — I get that. But to take it to dehumanizing us, where you’re just a murderer, a criminal, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I found that very offensive. And so to come to the end of my career and see that it was true — it totally messed me up.”
And the department wasn’t just targeting really bad people:
As these changes were taking place inside the department and police shootings began to spike, there was little public outrage. “The targets of police violence were gang members, drunks or street people, and so it wasn’t like they were preying on the people who had voted for the politicians,” says Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a state senator who represents Albuquerque. “They were preying on the people the politicians were all too glad to see silenced.”
The hostility of the city’s government to its homeless population is perhaps best illustrated by an episode from 2010, when police began arresting volunteers who were feeding the downtown homeless on Sundays. “Who gave them permission to feed the homeless at all?” asked an internal police e-mail concerning the operation against the volunteers. The e-mail made clear that the initiative had the approval of City Hall. “Darren White [public-safety director at the time] is allowing us to take the gloves off and deal with some issues of concern,” the e-mail began. “WOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOO!!!!!!!”
By 2009, incidents like this were more common place (and they are scarily similar to the shooting of homeless camper James Boyd we all watched on video):
A typical passage describes a 2009 encounter with a drunk 60-year-old, identified in the report by the pseudonym “Albert,” whose friend had called the cops claiming Albert threatened him with a knife and a pellet gun:
“Forty-seven officers responded to the scene, including snipers and officers from specialized tactical units. After some delay, Albert complied with officers’ orders to drop a knife that he was holding . . . and walked outside unarmed. After an additional delay, he stopped and began to turn. At that point, an officer was ordered to ‘bag him.’ An officer with a shotgun fired five successive rounds of beanbags at Albert. Another officer deployed a flash-bang grenade. Another officer shot him with a canister of four wooden batons, two of which penetrated his skin. Another officer deployed a police canine that bit Albert in the arm, tearing his flesh as the dog tried to pull him down. . . . Two officers fired Tasers at Albert; one of them fired six five-second cycles of electricity into him. Albert finally collapsed, and officers carried him away unconscious, leaving behind a trail of blood and urine.”
The men (all men) Mayor Berry put in charge of reform weren’t exactly reformers:
For one thing, changes in the police leadership weren’t exactly encouraging. Mayor Berry selected Gordon Eden, a politically connected former U.S. marshal who had most recently headed up the Department of Public Safety under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Upon his appointment, Eden promised a proactive reform campaign to “take the department well beyond any findings the DOJ has.” But Eden’s subsequent actions proved disappointing and baffling to many.
Two days before the DOJ singled out the city’s SWAT team for special criticism in its blistering report, Eden announced that his deputy chief would be Robert Huntsman, who had spent 10 years as the APD lieutenant in charge of special units, including SWAT. A month later, Eden made another top-level appointment, promoting Tim Gonterman to major. Eight years earlier, a federal jury had awarded a homeless African-American man named Jerome Hall $300,000 in a suit alleging that Gonterman, then a patrol officer, had applied a Taser to the unarmed Hall so relentlessly that Hall was eventually hospitalized with burns to his face, stomach, back, neck, shoulders and calf. According to his lawyer, Hall also lost part of his ear to the Taser burns.
When District Attorney Brandenburg announced charges, things got worse:
District Attorney Brandenburg announced that she was bringing murder charges against Perez and Sandy in the killing of James Boyd. But the road to bringing the cops to trial might be a rocky one. On October 7th, Brandenburg says, she was in contact with an attorney for the police union to let them know she was leaning toward bringing charges. A week later, the Albuquerque Journal filed a public-records request for a previously undisclosed yearlong police investigation into Brandenburg herself, accusing her of bribery and witness intimidation. Brandenburg’s son had been accused of petty thievery by his friends and a couple he used to live with, and the police alleged Brandenburg had pressured the victims not to press charges. Strangely, police never interviewed Brandenburg herself. Anonymous sources had tipped off the Journal to the investigation long before the report was delivered to the state attorney general.
Inevitably, the investigation had political implications. A top city official cited the probe in a letter to Brandenburg, questioning the objectivity of the DA’s office and suggesting future shootings should be referred to a special prosecutor. Brandenburg denies trying to silence her son’s accusers and won’t say if she thinks the investigation is being used as leverage against her now. “You can put two and two together,” Brandenburg says. “You can speculate on that.”
And this about sums it up:
“The guy was killed in front of the whole world,” he says. “If we can’t hold you accountable for this, what can we hold you accountable for? What’s it going to take?”
You need to read the rest. Seriously. Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/when-cops-break-bad-albuquerque-police-force-gone-wild-20150129#ixzz3QJY22uZ5
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