Albuquerque police oversight system reform eyed

May 21, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque will hold town hall meetings on overhauling its police oversight system as New Mexico’s largest city faces a federal investigation over police excessive force cases.

Albuquerque councilors approved Monday a measure to establish an 11-member task force to evaluate and make recommendations on the Police Oversight Commission by the end of the year. The group would hold three town hall meetings around the city before sending a report to the council.

The bipartisan resolution, which passed without opposition, [auth] also provides up to $50,000 to hire a consultant to help the task force with its work.

Citizen complaints against Albuquerque police officers are handled by the commission.

The move comes as U.S. Justice Department is investigating the police department after a string of officer-involved shootings and high-profile abuse cases alleging the use of excessive and deadly force. The investigation came to New Mexico’s biggest city after protests, lawsuits and demands for wide-scale agency overhaul from civil rights advocates over more than two dozen officer-involved shootings since 2010.

Federal officials have said the review has no timeline but similar probes have taken around a year.

A report from an outside group in 2011 called for changes in training and other procedures, including requiring officers to undergo more training on how to calm potentially violent situations and changing hiring criteria to focus on individuals with good problem-solving and communications skills.

For months, the Police Oversight Commission also has faced broad criticism, from not giving enough time for public comment to not having any teeth.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, filed a freedom-of-speech lawsuit against the commission earlier this year for abruptly limiting public comment during a meeting.

Albuquerque’s civilian oversight system dates to 1999. An independent review officer investigates citizen complaints against police and decides whether an officer is in the wrong. The commission can accept or reject the findings, but the police chief has final say on disciplinary matters.

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