June 23, 2016

Union giving APD officers money after shootings

Jordan Meeter

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A practice of a police union giving payment reimbursements of up to $500 to Albuquerque police officers after shootings from the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) continues.

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Jordan Meeter

Flickr cc

The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday on how one officer, Jeremy Dear, went to Hooters and a Chinese massage parlor two days after he fatally shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes.

Part of that report, unrelated to Dear’s actions, says “police union officials confirmed officers are still reimbursed up to $500 by the union to use for vacations and other ways to decompress after being involved in a shooting.”

It’s a practice that first surfaced publicly in 2012 when news broke that the union had given out payments to 23 officers involved in shootings. The revelation led to an outcry from critics over the appearance of awarding cops for shooting people in a department where a culture of “excessive use of force” eventually landed a court-ordered consent decree from the federal Department of Justice demanding a reform process. The city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department are still working on the implementation of the reforms.

At the time, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and then-APD Chief Ray Schultz called for the practice to stop.

After one week of scrutiny, APOA said the practice would stop, though the union said it was never a “bounty.”

APOA, however, also said at the time that officers involved in shootings could get still get paid only if they submitted receipts for review. That would be done on a case-by-case basis, the Albuquerque Journal reported at the time.

Likewise, APOA Acting President Shaun Willoughby told NM Political Report the union currently does “not pay officers involved in shootings” but does “provide support to any officer involved in a critical incident.”

“That support is a reimbursement to officers so that they may seek time away or additional counseling for themselves or their family, as a means to manage these very stressful situations,” Willoughby said in a prepared statement. “This is a common practice by unions across the country and we will continue to support our officers and their families when they need us.”

Alexandra Salazar, a spokeswoman for Berry, told NM Political Report in an email that nothing has changed and Berry opposes the police union’s practice.

Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton and former Councilor Pete Dinelli also spoke critically of the practice.

Benton called the practice “unfocused.”

“Couldn’t they do something to help officers decompress without throwing $500 at them?” Benton asked rhetorically in an interview. “I would very much support the union if it was psychological help. Some sort of medical or psychological care would be appropriate.”

Dinelli, who also once served as a workers’ compensation judge, noted that officers involved in shootings are immediately put on paid administrative leave and can apply for primary and secondary mental impairment worker compensation claims.

Dinelli called the public appearance of the union payments “terrible.”

“No doubt the union’s heart is in the right place, but it sends the wrong message to the public,” he said in an interview. “Frankly, I was surprised it was continuing, and it’s a practice that should be suspended, if not totally abolished.”

UPDATE (4:45pm): Added quote from APOA Acting President Shaun Willoughby.

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not accurately explain how the union payments to officers involved in shootings changed from cash payments to reimbursements in 2012.