The Sun News this morning editorializes in favor of creating a police auditor in charge of reviewing policies and procedures, making recommendations, and following through to see if they have been implemented. This is one of the many recommendations made by a consultant group hired by the city to deal with festering problems in the Las Cruces Police Department. The report of the consultant is available online here. It is brief, to the point, and worth reading.
Complaints against excessive use of force by officers are singled out in the report as being "of particular interest (p. 31)," inasmuch as the rate of complaints per hundred officers in this category (13.9) is more than three times the rate for cities with similar-sized police departments (4.2). Out of 74 complaints, after internal investigation, not a single complaint resulted in disciplinary action, and fully 69% were completely exonerated, compared to national averages for police departments of similar size of 10% disciplinary action and 34% exoneration. This strongly suggests something is wrong with internal investigation procedures, something that the report hints at in several places. For example, out of 177 full time sworn officers from 2006-2008, fully 32 (almost one in five) had received between 3 and 9 complaints. The study could find no evidence anything was done to address officers who had numerous complaints. But the $650,000 in settlements taxpayers had to dole out to victims who sued in the last few years suggests that when a more objective legal system catches up to these complaints, many are found to be valid.
The report cites a number of other police department "deficiencies," including a poor communications structure downwards, an "antiquated use-of-force model," lapses in training, and poor community relations. The report recommends re-instating community-oriented policing, and improving leadership and management which the study found to be inconsistent throughout the police department.
Talking briefly with citizens in a random, non-scientific way in the last couple of days reveals to me a growing frustration with rude behavior, excessive force, and unprofessional conduct on the part of the Las Cruces police. This is particularly true of people in the lower 60% or so of the income scale, but not always so. The city government and police department should take this report seriously and make a sincere effort to address the problems raised by this report before things get worse.
I have my own excessive use of force story: my wife was stopped by a Las Cruces officer a few years ago, for speeding slightly on Telshor. She was responding to a burglar alarm at our home which prompted a call of alert. She explained to the officer that she was answering a burglar alarm and asked him to accompany her in case someone was robbing the house. No one was there although a door was open. The officer wrote out a ticket and my wife asked him to write down the extenuating circumstances on the ticket. When he refused to do so, she said she would not sign the ticket. He demanded a second time, in a rude manner, for her to sign and when she refused, without warning he banged her against the wall and handcuffed her. My wife is not someone who is defiant of authority, but neither is she someone who will put up with abusive language from authority. While bailing my wife out I spoke to the officer, face to face. He was very uncomfortable, seemed a little fearful, and was hoping I would understand she had refused to sign. I chewed him out for his use of force when she wasn't resisting any arrest. I called up the police chief, who was in a service club with me. He was sympathetic but I could tell from the conversation nothing was going to be done to address this abuse. The charges against her for resisting arrest were dropped. I don't remember whether she had to pay a fine for speeding. I did not file a complaint, knowing nothing would be done. I learned that this officer had already received numerous complaints of excessive use of force, especially toward women. Nothing was ever done. His lack of judgment in an emergency situation, his lack of courtesy, his abusive demeanor, his excessive use of force, ruined my day, my wife's day, and remain with us in memory years later. Abuse of authority with impunity is what we hate in dictatorships and in this country we want authority to be held accountable.
My first public action in Las Cruces, years ago when I first arrived, was to speak in out at a forum in favor of the Las Cruces Police officers right to have union representation, a big issue at the time, and I was pleased to see the police officers fighting for their rights. I was delighted when the police got the right to be represented, and I've considered myself a friend of the LCPD ever since. That incident with the abusive police taught me a lesson, however, and, with the surfacing of this report and other stories I've heard recently and over the years, I think it's time for citizens to insist on some improvements in accountability in the police department.