Council hears public concerns about police force

April 8, 2014 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds of people packed Albuquerque City Hall on Monday evening to voice their concerns about the embattled police department and to demand changes ranging from increased officer training to better availability of mental health services [auth] that could help stop violent clashes with officers.

The City Council cleared Monday night’s agenda to hear from the public. As the meeting got underway, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would soon be releasing the long-awaited results of its investigation into complaints of civil rights violations and allegations of excessive use of force in the department.

The developments come after recent weeks in which demonstrators flooded the streets to protest recent police shootings, including the death of homeless camper James Boyd in the Albuquerque foothills following a long standoff with officers.

Some people at Monday’s meeting talked about a culture of violence that has permeated the city, while others made demands that officers use their lapel cameras during every encounter with the public to ensure accountability.

“We have now become the embarrassment of the nation, if not the entire world,” said Ralph Arellanes, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ New Mexico chapter and a member of the city’s police oversight task force.

“We are outraged by this and our fight against this will only grow louder and more united with larger numbers until we see change,” Arellanes told city councilors.

With the council chamber full, an overflow crowd watched a live stream of the meeting on large monitors outside. As the councilors listened to a steady stream of speakers, a mock coffin sat at the front of the room.

The crowd remained peaceful, but Council President Ken Sanchez acknowledged the frustration.

“We know emotions are high,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which has been investigating Albuquerque police for more than a year, said agency officials would meet with police, city leaders and others to discuss the findings after making a formal announcement on its findings Thursday.

The recent unrest in the city follows a string of 37 police shootings since 2010, 23 of them fatal, including the March 16 shooting of Boyd. During an hourslong standoff, Boyd claimed he was a government agent and had threatened to kill officers. An officer’s helmet camera video showed Boyd gathering his belongings from a campsite before officers shot him. He later died at a hospital.

The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into that shooting.

Many at Monday’s meeting called for federal officials to take over the police department, demanded more transparency and asked that recommendations by an 11-member task force that spent months examining the Police Oversight Commission be implemented rather than shelved by city officials.

Sanchez and other council members are weighing future legislation to address police oversight and whether the council should have authority over hiring the police chief or creating a commission that would oversee daily operations within the department.

“We need to make some dramatic changes,” Sanchez told the Albuquerque Journal before Monday’s meeting ( ). “We’re confronting a crisis situation at this time.”

Councilman Brad Winter said councilors are frustrated and are looking at what they can do to fix the problem.

Since the council has limited authority over police matters due to the City Charter, Sanchez said proposals to change the charter may come forward. Any amendments would have to be approved by voters.

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