ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A newly-released report from the ACLU claims police departments across the country including here in New Mexico are acting too much like the military.
The report calls out police for using military gear and SWAT crews in situations that don’t require them.
Albuquerque, Farmington, Hobbs and even the New Mexico State University Police Department are among around 20 different law enforcement agencies in New Mexico that have taken military gear into their force in the last few years.
In its new report, the ACLU is calling them and hundreds of other departments out, saying the gear and military-esque tactics are pushing officers use of force to excessive levels.
“I think New Mexico is reflective of the trends that we’re seeing nationally,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico.
With years of observation of police in New Mexico, Simonson believes the lines have blurred between wars overseas and police forces on the streets at home.
“As both technology, tactics and armament has changed, our police departments have become much more inclined to escalate situations in encounters with civilians,” said Simonson.
The ACLU has released a new national report called “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” The report claims that police departments in New Mexico and across the U.S. have become more aggressive, particularly with SWAT teams.
SWAT team use is something the DOJ called out APD for in its report, saying the department deployed SWAT when it wasn’t needed.
“Only 7 percent of the time are SWAT teams nationally, according to this study, currently being used for what they were originally intended for, which was to respond to hostage situations, respond to shooters, where situations are imminently violent and (officers) are clearly going into a dangerous situation,” said Simonson.
Simonson says departments have also increasingly geared up with surplus U.S. military equipment.
“Some of the smallest in the far flung corners of the state are now receiving this kind of gear,” said Simonson.
Public records support that claim. Over the last few years, smaller departments including Farmington Police and Hobbs Police have acquired military grade vehicles, “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected” vehicles, or more commonly called “MRAP” vehicles. For Farmington, the vehicle only cost a few thousand dollars.
“Those armored personal carriers stand as the shining example of the absurdity, of the lengths to which this militarization has gone,” said Simonson.
Meanwhile, some departments argue the need for the trucks. Los Lunas Police Department recently use its MRAP vehicle to help move 4 officers and 3 civilians from a scene where a man fired around 70 bullets at officers over the course of several hours.
On the other hand, Albuquerque Police are considering getting rid of its MRAP vehicle. In a statement from APD spokeswoman Janet Blair, APD said:
“This military surplus vehicle was requisitioned before Chief Gorden E. Eden Jr.’s arrival. It currently sits unused. The Chief thinks there is no need for this particular vehicle within his department, and as such over the next couple of weeks he will be researching to determine what is to become of it.”
The ACLU says while it sees legitimate needs for SWAT, the ACLU says departments need to make sure police aren’t taking it too far.
“Let’s make sure that there are clear criteria, there are clear standards that determine when a swat team is going to be deployed,” said Simonson.
Out of the report, the ACLU is pushing for local governments to create laws on when SWAT teams can be used. They’re also asking for the Federal Government to put more barriers in place for the program that gives excess military equipment to police departments.
Beyond bomb-resistant trucks, the U.S. Military also lets departments request machine guns, ammo magazines, night vision goggles and more, at virtually no cost.