ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department is heavily reliant on weapons.
And through the department’s training, both for cadets and APD veterans, there’s a heavy emphasis on using force to end stressful encounters.
That’s one of the primary reasons New Mexico’s largest law enforcement agency has developed and fostered a systemic culture of unconstitutional policing.
Those were among the findings released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which spent 16 months interviewing hundreds of people, poring over thousands of documents and scrutinizing academy training as part of the DOJ’s exhaustive investigation of city police.
In the report, Justice Department officials dedicated numerous pages to ripping Albuquerque police leaders for not giving their officers the proper tools and training to deescalate tense situations. It even went as far as saying that much of officers’ training leads them to believe that violent outcomes are “normal and desirable.”
The feds found APD training over-emphasizes the use of force, including guns, Tasers and other weapons, especially in situations where people are not posing a legitimate threat.
“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,” acting Assistant Attorney General for civil rights Jocelyn Samuels said at a news conference Thursday.
In other words, it was often an APD officer’s actions that led to a violent encounter with a citizen, the DOJ found. Those officers, according to the DOJ, were poorly trained.
The Justice Department found that APD doesn’t train provide refresher courses for officers on its use-of-force policies or new developments in case law. Officers also don’t receive training on new equipment, including the lapel-mounted cameras they’re supposed to use to record each encounter with citizens.
APD brass also doesn’t provide enough training on constitutional law, the DOJ report says.
“We also note with concern that the legal training materials provided to officers contain a number of cartoons that are likely intended to break up the monotony of the material, but that nevertheless are unprofessional and, in some cases, offensive,” the report says. “These cartoons send the wrong message to officers about the importance of civilians’ legal rights.”
Other findings hammered APD on the way it trains city police to use Tasers, deal with people living with mental illness and even write police reports.
And from top to bottom, APD has a ‘poor understanding of community policing,” the feds found, and the department needs to get training in place to emphasize the value of the tried-and-true method of improving cop-community relations.
Justice Department officials gave APD credit for hiring Jo Wolf, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement academy boss, to run the APD Academy in late 2012.
Wolf, the DOJ said, is moving the academy “in the right direction.”
But before training comes hiring.
The feds also made recommendations in the way APD recruits. For one, the report said APD should strengthen background checks for new and lateral hires.
Detective Keith Sandy is a prime example. Sandy, who recently killed homeless camper James Boyd in Sandia’s Foothills, was fired from New Mexico State Police in 2007 after a time-card rigging scandal. APD hired him a few months later.
“I can’t see any reason why the Albuquerque Police Department needs to hire somebody that was terminated as a law enforcement officer in the State of New Mexico. To me, it just exposes us to too much of a risk, and the community as well,” said former APD Academy Director Steve Tate. He left the department in 2006.
Tate said APD brass often turned a blind eye to the quality of cadets during its push for 1,100 officers a decade ago.
“I could see a trend starting where what I considered marginal candidates, people who had just barely made it through the minimum standards, were being seated in classes. And I thought that that was not the right way to head,” Tate said.
The DOJ also recommended the department should require all officers to get a valid psychological exam before hitting the streets. Tate said while he was at the Academy, there was a lot of “ pressure on (the psychological) staff to go ahead and move people along through the process that they may not have agreed should have moved along.”
The push for officers happened under former Mayor Marty Chavez and former APD Chief Ray Schultz. The two dodged KRQE News 13’s request for interviews Thursday.
Mayor Richard Berry announced last week a new evaluation system to monitor officers from the Academy throughout their careers.