June 17, 2020

Democrats introduce police ‘use of force’ reporting requirements

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

Four Democratic state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation during the special session this week that they say would offer greater transparency and more accountability when it comes to police use of force.

Amid calls from protesters in New Mexico and nationwide to defund law enforcement agencies and stop insulating officers from possible consequences over excessive and lethal use of force, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and others have asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to prioritize the bill.

The measure would increase oversight of officers’ use of force, including requiring reports to the district attorney, attorney general and Governor’s Office following an incident in which a law enforcement officer’s action causes “great bodily harm” or death to an individual.

The proposal also would allow the top prosecutor of a judicial district where an incident has occurred to request selection of a district attorney from another jurisdiction to review the case and decide whether to bring charges against an officer.

Investigations into police use of force would be handled by the state Department of Public Safety, according to the legislation, which has not yet been assigned a bill number.

“I think that people need to have confidence in our institutions, and when you have delays, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, people aren’t confident,” Sedillo Lopez said in an interview Tuesday. “And I think we have an obligation to do something about that.”

The proposal is also sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and state Reps. Patricia Roybal Caballero and Gail Chasey, Democrats from Albuquerque. State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, also has introduced legislation aimed at changing state law regarding investigations into police misconduct.

Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett previously said in an email that Lujuan Grisham “is open to proposals that address the timely questions of excessive force in policing and of systemic racism and injustice.”

Sedillo Lopez, a former professor of law and liberal Democrat, argued the legislation is “at least as important as the budget.”

The primary focus of the special session, which starts Thursday, is to address an estimated $2 billion shortfall in projected state revenues for fiscal year 2021, forcing lawmakers to reconvene for a budget overhaul.

Roybal Caballero said during a news conference Tuesday in Albuquerque the legislation is meant to be a part of broader efforts to overhaul police departments to increase transparency and accountability, and to narrow racial disparities.

The measure comes in response to calls for major law enforcement reforms following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis. The death prompted protests worldwide, including in New Mexico. 

“These acts of racial violence by law enforcement and others in positions of power and authority have resulted in our communities losing trust and faith in the notion of police and public safety officers,” Roybal Caballero said.