APD’s clean-up man has SWAT background

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The U.S. Justice Department says APD has fallen flat on its face, too often at the expense of human life.

Internal Affairs. Deescalation techniques. Critical incident training. Department-wide accountability measures.

They’re all areas the DOJ said, in its 46-page report released Thursday, that the Albuquerque Police Department needs to turn around.

Mayor Richard Berry has chosen his guy.

“He’s highly regarded,” Berry told reporters on Friday. “I think he brings a lot of experience to the table with fresh eyes.”

The mayor was talking about Robert Huntsman, a 29-year APD veteran who left the department in 2012 after a brief stint as the Northeast Area commander.

He came back to APD “because I love this department and I love this city and the people in it,” Huntsman told KRQE News 13 in his first interview since Berry appointed him earlier this week.

Huntsman is best known for the decade he spent running Albuquerque’s SWAT team and other tactical units.

That’s the same SWAT unit the DOJ stopped a hair short of calling a rogue element within the police department. The report says SWAT officers did what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted — and that “contribute(d) to the pattern of (APD’s) unreasonable use of force.”

Huntsman told News 13 he’s read the report several times.

“My goal is to get this back to where it belongs,” he said. “With the right philosophy of patience and using all the tools that we have appropriately.”

He likes his chances, he said, because he’s done it before.

“When I took over, there was a philosophy that I wanted to change about SWAT,” Huntsman said.

City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry defended the Huntsman hire and described the law enforcement veteran’s philosophy at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“There’s three words he taught throughout his tenure in SWAT: basically ‘wait, talk, listen’. Time is on your side. It works out best by using time,” Perry said.

But if Huntsman did succeed in making changes to SWAT’s aggressive culture, the Justice Department says they didn’t stick.

The report highlights two deadly shootings by Huntsman’s SWAT alums. Both happened after Huntsman left APD. The feds say neither should have happened at all.

In separate incidents, SWAT officers Sean Wallace and Jim Perdue steamrolled field cops who were in the middle of negotiating with suspects, federal investigators found, and fired fatal shots at the men without permission from supervisors.

That’s the exact opposite of what Huntsman said he trained them to do.

News 13: “Folks like Sean Wallace joined in 2007 as a lateral hire. Keith Sandy, Jim Perdue, these were people who came on to the force…”
Huntsman: ” …sure…”
News 13: ” …and were trained in what you were just telling us about. Why weren’t they following it once you weren’t…advising them?”
Huntsman: “Once I left? I don’t know that I could answer what happened after I left.”
News 13: “How good was that training?”
Huntsman: “Oh it was excellent training.”
News 13: “How good was it if they weren’t following it once you left?”
Huntsman: “… Again, I can’t really answer that.”
News 13: “Wouldn’t good training stay with you for a career?”
Huntsman: “Well, yes. Absolutely. It should.”

The Justice Department says it didn’t.

This time around at APD, it’s not just SWAT for Huntsman. His new job is to make sure the whole department can adopt a less violent culture and that when officers are too quick to the Taser or the trigger, Internal Affairs actually does something about it.

The latter is something Huntsman has limited experience with, no more than a few months in IA three decades ago.

“Years and years and years ago I had a TDY, or a temporary assignment, with Internal Affairs back in the mid-80s,” he said. “I won’t tolerate abuse. Absolutely not. Never have, never will.”

Huntsman is unflinching in his belief that he’s the right man for the huge job ahead.

“I have high integrity,” he said. “And I demand that from everybody who’s ever worked for me.”

And the mayor has got his back.

When asked at Thursday’s news conference why he chose a SWAT veteran to clean up a department whose SWAT team was hammered by the feds, Berry said: “We think that he’s got a lot to offer in this process from an experiential standpoint.”

But, according to the DOJ’s findings, isn’t Huntsman’s the wrong kind of experience?

“Is his name on the report?” Berry said. “I didn’t see his name in the report. I’m sorry.”

Robert Huntsman’s name isn’t in the DOJ report on the Albuquerque Police Department.

His fingerprints are.

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