Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.
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. 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.
With a sometimes-tumultuous working relationship between the retiring Second Judicial District Attorney and the Albuquerque Police Department in recent years, focus will soon turn to how a new DA will work with police. All three candidates for DA are focused on how to build a relationship with APD, a troubled police department subject to reforms under a Department of Justice consent decree. Ed Perea, one of the two Democratic candidates seeking the position, is a former APD commanding officer and recently received an endorsement from the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association. Perea’s campaign is focused on his experience in practicing law and supervising and working with officers. He said a DA must, first and foremost, be able to work with officers to make the community safer.
New broke on Thursday evening that the head of the union that represents the Albuquerque Police Department was arrested on charges of child abuse. Media began reporting Thursday evening around 8:30 p.m. that Stephanie Lopez was charged with child abuse. She is the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. Lopez was arrested by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Shortly before 9:00 p.m., a spokesman for the APD confirmed the arrest but did not offer much more information.
The New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union launched an app on Friday that will store bystander cell phone videos of local police incidents. ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson described the Mobile Justice App’s purpose as empowering citizens “to hold our local law enforcement accountable when they have encounters with the public.” He added that technology is allowing the public to hold police use of excessive force more accountable than ever before, mentioning the widely publicized deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. “It’s not something that’s new when it comes to police practices,” Simonson said. “But it seems to have been getting ever more scrutiny as video technology makes it more possible for the public to see exactly how police interact with the public.”
Most law enforcement agencies in New Mexico don’t require that officers wear video cameras. The Albuquerque Police Department still hasn’t fully implemented guidelines for their body cameras.
Earlier this week, a federal judge approved an agreement between the Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque on reforms for the Albuquerque Police Department. The agreement dates back to last November when Mayor Richard Berry signed an agreement with the DOJ outlining reforms for APD. On Tuesday, U.S District Judge Robert Brack ruled the agreement is valid. In the 30 page opinion, Brack wrote:
The Agreement lays a thoughtful foundation for building systematic reform in APD. The Amici drew attention to several areas that could create difficulties down the line.
In response to a complaint filed in March alleging a violation of a state open government law , the City of Albuquerque last month maintained that it can ban members of the public from video-recording its personnel hearings. It’s a stance that the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, the union that represents the city’s 878 police officers, shares. Toni Balzano, a spokeswoman for the union, told New Mexico Political Report that city personnel hearings “should be private unless the city chooses or finds some reason that it should not be.” “We do feel like there’s a lot of information—personnel information—that would not be available to the media or the public through an [Inspection of Public Records] request that is part of these hearings,” she said. The controversy began earlier this year when Charles Arasim, a resident who’s been video-recording and uploading personnel meetings involving police officers online, was told he could not videotape hearings.