Juxtaposed with the media stories of the ongoing national gun control debate, its own rising crime rates, and its selection by Fodors as one of the top six US cities to visit in 2013, Albuquerque is wrestling with a PR issue: the Albuquerque Police Department has been making the news frequently for the three years by allegedly breaking the law and violating citizens’ civil rights.
For the last several weeks, U.S. Department of Justice officers have been investigating the Albuquerque Police Department for a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, “specifically through its officers’ use of force.” Their findings: since 2010, APD officers shot at 26 men, striking 24, and killing 17. Although none of those officers has faced criminal or administrative discipline, families of some of the citizens shot have filed civil lawsuits against the city and the Albuquerque Police Department. Around three dozen protesters staged a protest against officer-involved shootings last March near police headquarters in downtown Albuquerque. Family members carried photos of those shot by police and demanded a federal investigation. Citizens are wondering what’s going on.
2010 was a bad year for APD officer-involved killings. On Jan. 13, 2010, an APD officer fatally shot an Iraqi war veteran, whose father has become an outspoken APD critic who initiated a contentious wrongful death lawsuit that is still pending. Click to read more. One police-involved shooting in 2010 even occurred, not in Albuquerque, but in Tucumcari, 170 miles away, where an APD SWAT team had been called in to assist State Police with a domestic dispute on October, 20. They fatally shot a 56-year-old man on the front porch of his home. Click to read more.
“I’m going lethal.” That’s what an APD officer told his fellow officers upon entering the home of a mentally disabled man in November, 2010, whom he shot and badly wounded. Relatives later sued the city for use of excessive force. Without admitting liability, the city settled the case for $275,000. Click here to read more.
There were four Duke City police shootings in 2011, including one ruled “justified”: three APD officers fatally shot a man after he allegedly pulled a handgun and pointed it at them from a vehicle that he had allegedly carjacked. Click to read more. In April, a schizophrenic man living with his parents was fatally shot by police. The dead man’s family alleged that “the culture at the Albuquerque Police Department permits systematic use of excessive force. “ Click to read more. On May 10, an APD SWAT officer shot an unarmed man as he was walking into a home after family members had called police to say he was holding them hostage.
Also in 2011, an APD officer shot a man twice in the back and once in the buttocks after a traffic stop. A civil wrongful death lawsuit is pending against the shooter, who, after the shooting, listed his job as “human waste disposal” on Facebook. Click to read more.
Ironically, twenty of the Albuquerque officers involved in shootings in 2010 and 2011 were paid from $500 to $1,000 each by the Albuquerque police union to “help them cope with the stress of the shootings.” The father of one of the victims said he believed the money instead served “as a bounty-style reward for a shooting.” Click to read more.
The department also had a series of high-profile embarrassments that didn’t involve shootings. Here are some examples:
- “Police brutality” On 2011, the Albuquerque Journal posted a video showing an APD policeman kicking a suspect in the head while another officer held the man on the ground. Both officers were fired. Click to read more.
- “APD aggravated battery” On Aug. 16, 2012, two APD officers Tasered a man four times and punched another man in the back while he was being held down following a minor marijuana investigation. Click here to read more.
- “APD DWI” An Albuquerque police officer resigned last August 2 after being arrested for drunken driving after gambling at a local casino. Click here to read more.
- “APD Sexting” An APD officer was suspended without pay for allegedly exchanging inappropriate text messages with an underage girl whom he had given a traffic citation. Click here to read more.
- “APD Illegal Drug Use” For the past several months, APD and FBI agents have been investigating allegations that APD officers have been using illegal steroids. Click here to read more.
- “APD Theft” An APD officer was recently arrested for stealing a television set that was owned by the roommate of another APD officer who later resigned from the force. Click here to read more.
- “APD Assault” Last March, an APD officer was arrested for allegedly physically assaulting his wife after she called 911 saying, “Ever since he became an APD officer, he’s been violent. Click here to read more.
- “APD Loafing” Last April, an APD officer was suspended after a citizen reported him (while on duty) drinking at a bar while his police car was parked outside. Click here to read more.
- “APD Roughing ” Last May, an APD officer was suspended and required to get four training after being observed u punching, cursing at, and trying to detain citizen. Click here to read more.
- “Family Affair” In September, an APD officer’s wife faced felony charges for buying handguns for a convicted drug dealer and accused murderer who used one of the guns to shoot at police. Click here to read more.
- “Image Problem” For two decades, an elite APD unit,”the Repeat Offender Project,” used a hangman’s noose as its unit’s symbol before it was ordered not to. Click here to read more.
What’s to come of this? The stated goal of the federal investigation is “to determine the truth, and to ensure that APD is an effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting. We will review cases individually and cumulatively to determine whether there are any patterns or trends.” …and hopefully correct any organizational or cultural weak spots.