DOJ Report: APD overuses SWAT

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Another finding of the report concluded APD’s SWAT team needs more oversight.

The report says the SWAT team’s problems start at the top with commanders who don’t have adequate training or experience and members who don’t know how to deploy and control a scene or report what is going on.

As a result, the report says the SWAT team is overused, the Crisis Intervention team is underused and officers put themselves in bad situations.

“In fact we found that sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force,” said Jocelyn Samuels with the Department of Justice.

The DOJ report also says the SWAT team has a troubling trend of not videotaping and documenting call-outs.

DOJ Findings Pages 35-36

In our review of the Department’s SWAT, we found deficiencies in the leadership of this specialized unit. At the time of our review, the SWAT commander had not received adequate training and appeared to lack the experience to direct a disciplined and effective SWAT unit. It is critical that supervisors be taught the skills necessary to oversee a specialized unit. Beyond the commander’s lack of SWAT experience, we note that the unit does not have clear command structure or deployment guidance. As a consequence, we found that SWAT members do not have sufficient understanding of incident deployment, scene control, or proper reporting protocols. We further noted a near absence of organizational accountability. Officers are simply afforded too much autonomy, which has contributed to even greater insularity from the department’s accountability systems, ineffective deployments and tragic shootings that could have been avoided.

SWAT’s deficient on~scene supervisory oversight contributes to the pattern of unreasonable use of force. Based on our review, SWAT officers failed to conduct any pre~deployment planning and rarely coordinated with patrol officers once they arrived on the scene of incidents. We further found that SWAT officers were unable to provide operational or strategic guidance once they arrived on scene. In many instances, despite being tactical experts, SWAT command failed to provide any meaningful assistance during dangerous situations.

In the fatal shooting of Alan Gomez, 26 officers responded to a possible hostage situation. Even though SWAT responded to the scene, it appeared that SWAT command failed to establish scene control. A SWAT officer acted independently in setting up on the scene, and it appears that little, if any, coordination was conducted to ensure that patrol officers could effectively address the situation. The SWAT officer also failed to participate in negotiations, even though the discussions with Gomez lasted nearly one hour. While the patrol officers were negotiating with Gomez, the SWAT officer unilaterally took a shooting position near the house. As the officers continued to negotiate with Gomez, the SWAT team member shot Gomez before he received approval from a supervisor.

Similarly, we reviewed another incident where several patrol officers responded to a home after learning that “Steve” had been involved in multiple armed robberies and was staying at the home. As the patrol officers arrived on the scene, Steve left the home and was followed by multiple patrol officers. Steve reportedly had suicidal thoughts and was carrying a firearm in a duffle bag. The patrol officers were able to negotiate with Steve in an open field and to convince him to get on his knees, although he maintained control of the duffle bag. As the patrol officers continued to negotiate with Steve for over one hour, a SWAT officer arrived on the scene. The SWAT officer failed to coordinate with the patrol officers, and SWAT command seemed to play no role in handling the situation. The SWAT officer instead positioned himself in a tactical shooting position. The SWAT officer also failed to communicate with his supervisor, even though the supervisor was on his way to the scene. This lack of communication is a pervasive practice that has contributed to tactical shortcomings at APD. As the patrol officers were awaiting a SWAT supervisor, the SWAT officer shot Steve multiple times. Several officers reported that they were surprised that the SWAT officer shot Steve. This is another example of how a SWAT command failure and deployment failure led to a fatal shooting.

In addition to its lacking deployment oversight, we also identified a troubling trend where
SWAT officers failed to document and videotape deployments. This stands in stark contrast to the canine unit, which is actually a component of the SWAT unit and which more consistently documents and evaluates deployments. SWAT has the ability to document and record deployments just as thoroughly as the canine unit, but it has not done so. Supervisors-and again, the same supervisors who oversee SWAT also oversee the canine unit-have therefore been unable to determine whether SWAT’s actions were reasonable, appropriate, and complied with the department’s standards. They also could not assess the tactical effectiveness of deployments. This deficient control and understanding of SWAT officers’ conduct contributes to the pattern of unreasonable use of force.

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