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Law enforcement academy board reverses some rules

July 16, 2014 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The board for the state’s main law enforcement academy voted Wednesday to undo changes that lowered cadets’ required firearms scores and equalized physical tests among male and female cadets.

Director Jack Jones made the changes last year following complaints by police chiefs and sheriffs that the academy wasn’t properly preparing cadets. The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy board voted unanimously Wednesday to reverse them.

Under the newly revised requirements, cadets must score at least 80 percent on a firearms test and men and women should be given different minimum grades to pass the physical requirements.

Jones said he lowered the firearms test requirement to 70 percent because that’s the standard nationally and because smaller law enforcement [auth] agencies couldn’t afford the ammunition and didn’t have the required shooting ranges for practice.

But board member Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said dropping the minimum score made him uncomfortable.

“Personally, I don’t like the 70 percent. Seventy-five percent is more to my liking,” Coon said. “If you’re in school, that’s a C-minus.”

Board member Nate Korn also said he didn’t think dropping the score was the answer to better training despite budget concerns.

“If they can’t remain at 80 percent, they need to find another line of work,” he said.

Board members also said they thought scoring male and female cadets equally on physical exams may hurt efforts to recruit more women. Attorney General Gary King, board chairman, said he would have attorneys examine whether equal scoring would be better under the law.

In addition, the board voted to tentatively approve a new curriculum Jones say could reduce police shootings, although some critics argue those changes may actually increase them.

A key change supporters say may de-escalate deadly force cases is the shift from the academy’s “reactive control model,” which teaches cadets that when a suspect draws a knife, for example, the officers immediately should draw a gun regardless of the distance between the two.

That model of training, which academy officials say has been used in agencies across the state and hasn’t been updated since 2003, doesn’t take into account the use of stun guns or other nonlethal options.

Under the new changes, cadets are taught the “reasonableness standard model,” which uses case law to explain the various options officers and deputies should consider before using deadly force.

However, Chris Mechels, a retired Tesuque resident and critic of the changes, said Jones didn’t give board members enough time to review the new curriculum and called the move “a disgrace.” He said the curriculum has deficiencies and hurts community policing.

“This will be challenged in court,” Mechels said.

Board members asked Jones for copies of the old curriculum so they could compare it to the latest changes and determine at their next meeting whether any more alterations need to be made.

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