January 23, 2017

Proposed return-to-work bill increases threats to community safety 

The Legislature plans to revisit the issue of allowing the rehiring of law enforcement retirees. This development could potentially agitate the current tension existing statewide between the community and law enforcement.

In the reintroduction of this bill, the New Mexico public is being betrayed and threatened by the potential reinforcement of these agencies’ perpetuation of a “culture of war”—specifically an “Us vs. Them” (law enforcement vs. community) mentality. Lawmakers choose to solely focus on funding and solving department shortages throughout the state without regard for the possible ramifications this bill may have on public safety.  The feeling of betrayal is evident particularly in Albuquerque, where there was thought to be progress made toward improving police and community relations. Since late 2013, there has been a high level of interaction between Albuquerque Police Department and various community stakeholders. 

Elder Michael Jefferson is a minister at Procession Ministries in Albuquerque.

In January of 2015 a diverse group of Albuquerque Black Community Leaders submitted a report to APD Chief Gordon Eden that detailed the specific training and utilization of materials that instill a militaristic culture within APD. Eden responded to the report by replacing trainers as well as removing divisive materials from the APD training curriculum. However, Eden’s support of this legislation may be construed as blatant disregard for the community’s concerns and questions of his sincerity toward establishing meaningful, true, reciprocal community policing.  

Lastly, the proposed bill, coupled with support from the mayor and the chief of police of Albuquerque, appears to violate the terms of the federal Department of Justice and City of Albuquerque consent decree. The Black Community already believes the city to be dismissive, for example in Mayor Richard Berry’s failure to keep promises made to the community regarding the removal of all Confederate commemorations erected in the Old Town Plaza.  

The Legislature in past sessions has refrained from passage of legislation that would allow rehiring retired law enforcement personnel. Families within the community, especially single-parent families, believe the passage of such a bill may be viewed as a serious obstacle to the realization of a congruent relationship and their children’s safety.  

Our New Mexico community understands the need for hiring and fully staffing the corps of law enforcement but also is concerned with preventing further unnecessary loss of life at the hands of law enforcement officers. New hires may be the most efficient approach.

Another question that must be addressed is whether this legislation include mandates for briefings and continuous training to eradicate long-held prejudices instilled by a tainted law enforcement culture. “If this is pursued and put into action, the training concerns should be addressed thoroughly regarding retired rehires, which were previously trained under and served with the war mentality and tactics,” stated an University of New Mexico administrator who asked that their identity be kept anonymous.