DOJ says SWAT, Internal Affairs among trouble spots at APD

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – In a use of force investigation that pulled few punches, the Justice Department hit APD’s Internal Affairs Division especially hard.

Finding that excessive force was widespread among the officers of the Albuquerque Police Department, the feds said the department’s internal review process did little to stop unnecessary violence.

Albuquerque’s SWAT team also got a couple pages worth of unfavorable mentions in the DOJ report.

Justice Department investigators said their findings suggest “a pervasive and deliberate leniency in supervisory oversight and accountability.”

Supervisors routinely rubber-stamped testimonies by the officers who shot civilians, the report said, and investigators found the command structure at APD went out of its way to approve the officers’ stories, “even when officers’ accounts were incomplete, were inconsistent with other evidence, or were based on canned or repetitive language.”

“APD policy does not require that supervisors conduct a thorough, rigorous and objective review of officers’ use of force, including ensuring that officers provide a complete and accurate account of the facts surrounding their use of force,” the report said.

What the DOJ called superficial reviews “evince the chain of command’s disregard for detecting individual and aggregate patterns of unreasonable force by subordinates.

“We also observed deficiencies in how detectives approached shooting incidents that were questionable, i.e., not clearly justified,” Justice Department officials wrote. “Based on our review, detectives approached these incidents with less scrutiny than required, such as by failing to canvass for witnesses, to test the officer’s account and to address contradictions.”

The DOJ report also set its sights on Albuquerque’s SWAT team, pointing out that there exists a “bear absence of organizational accountability” in what is supposed to be one of APD’s elite units.

Far too often, the feds concluded, SWAT officers made situations worse by failing to communicate with field officers at scenes and essentially acting on their own.

SWAT “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,” the report says.

Federal investigators used two examples to illustrate the problems they identified at APD SWAT. Both were fatal shootings in which SWAT officers showed up while negotiations were under way with unstable suspects and took matters into their own hands. The feds say neither shooting should have happened.

The DOJ stopped just short of calling the Albuquerque SWAT team a rogue unit within the police department.

Investigators also took pains to point out a growing gun culture within APD, noting that many cops see the fancy guns they carry as “status symbols.”

After training ends, officers can carry non-standard weapons approved by the APD range master, the feds found. Investigators found “many officers purchase expensive, high-powered guns as soon as they are allowed, using their own money.”

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