FILE – This file image taken from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser on Oct. 28, 2013, and provided by the New Mexico State Police, shows three New Mexico State Police officers reacting as a minivan driven by motorist Oriana Farrell pulls away from a traffic stop that included one officer bashing the van’s window with his night stick and another, Elias Montoya, left, firing three shots at the fleeing van not knowing that there were children in the vehicle. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico announced Tuesday, March 4, 2014, that attorneys have filed an open records request to examine the Mexico Law Enforcement Academy [auth] curriculum, which is under scrutiny for giving officers more leeway to use deadly force. (AP Photo/New Mexico State Police, File)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New proposed state police training material that critics say gives officers more leeway to use deadly force will be released to the public next week, New Mexico Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Kassetas said drafts of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy curriculum will be made available as soon as officials get them ready. The creator of the curriculum originally said he’d rather burn the materials than release them.
“The Department of Public Safety has every intention of releasing the lesson plans,” Kassetas told The AP.
But he said a small portion will be redacted since it involves sensitive tactical training and could put officers in danger if it is made public.
The announcement comes a day after the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said it was seeking the training material through an open records request. Academy director Jack Jones told the Santa Fe New Mexican last month that he’d rather burn the training materials than release them after he received an open records request from the newspaper.
The Associated Press and the Albuquerque Journal also have requested the training materials through public information requests.
However, Kassetas said the material sought out has only been proposed and still must be approved by the state’s eight-member New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board. “It will be presented at an open board meeting and the public will have a chance to comment on it,” said Kassetas, a member of the board.
The academy trains recruits for police departments across the state.
Critics have attacked the recent changes to the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy curriculum, which they say now teaches recruits to exercise more leeway to use deadly force when pursuing a suspect. Cadet training also has been shortened from 22 weeks to 16 weeks, a move some sheriff’s offices and police departments say was needed amid an overall officer and deputy shortage in the state.
Kassetas disputes the charge that the proposed changes gives more leeway on deadly force and defended the shortening of the academy saying the time frame is in line with other law enforcement academies in other states. He said local agencies still can provide officers further training.
The training changes were drafted after the state’s academy board voted in September to give complete control over the curriculum to Jones. The chair of the board is Attorney General Gary King, who is responsible for upholding the state’s open records laws. He voted for the rule change.
King’s spokesman, Phillip Sisneros, said the academy has asked for portions of the training to be withheld from the public under the law enforcement exemption of the state’s public records law. “Our office stands ready to accept and review those items to determine whether such information is, in fact, exempted from release under the law,” Sisneros said.
Jones told the Santa Fe New Mexican that proposed changes include more training in traffic stops involving gunfire and the use of possible deadly force. He said he was basing his use-of-force techniques on a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found an officer can use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect if the officer feels that person could commit serious physical injury or even kill someone.
According to Kassetas, part of the training involves classes on legal issues surrounding the use of force and judgment when officers should use force. Other training involves ethics, physical fitness, anti-terrorism and crime scenes.
New Mexico State Police has drawn controversy following a series of shootings, including one involving an officer caught on video shooting at a minivan full of children during a chaotic October traffic stop near Taos. That officer, Elias Montoya, was later fired.
Jack LeVick, executive director of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, declined to comment on the use of force changes to the curriculum but said sheriffs were pleased that the cadet training time was reduced.
“We believe in Jack Jones,” LeVick said.