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Having both a “robust” citizens’ review board and a police auditor would be ideal for the City of Las Cruces, City Councilor Gabe Vasquez said during the council’s Monday, July 13, work session.
“Do we want a police auditor vs. a citizens’ review board or both?” Mayor Pro-Tem Kasandra Gandara asked. “I just want the public to be very much part of this process.”
“An intense, comprehensive auditor” can lead to a better police force that has community trust, Councilor Johana Bencomo said. But, she said, having police officers conduct the review “gives a lot of pause to a lot of community members in terms of trust in the process.”
The city has had a police auditor since August 2014, City Attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown said at the meeting. A contract with a private auditing company, Public Safety Strategies Group (PSSG) of Townsend, MA, was renewed five times and terminated in August 2019, she said.
Vega-Brown said a sixth contract renewal was underway when the city decided a new RFP should be created to track more specific data about the performance of the Las Cruces Police Department. PSSG had issued twice yearly reports to the council.
Vega-Brown said the city is not required to conduct police audits, and there are no specific standards to guide them. She said a city advisory committee that includes local law enforcement officials and auditors from the cities of Las Cruces and El Paso, convened Jan. 8 to craft the new RFP. The issue was brought before the council at the July 13 meeting to get councilors’ input, Vega-Brown said.
The revised audit process will include an anonymous hotline to receive complaints, she said, and audits of the complaint investigation process will “ensure investigations were complete, objective, thorough and fair and that all actions taken were appropriate.”
Complaints may include issues related to the code of conduct/ethics, recording devices, use of force, vehicle pursuits and other matters.
Audits would also be done of police operations, including policies, procedures and training issues, with recommendations for improvement to increase police accountability and transparency included in the complaint process, Vega-Brown said.
She said audit services will include follow-up audits to evaluate “procedural, practical or other barriers that may suppress or discourage reporting of complaints,” and will also include statistical and trend analyses, such as offender and victim demographics, location of incidents, criminal charges, disposition of cases, police violations and police-officer demographics.
Vega-Brown said written and evaluation reports will be submitted to the city within 30 days of receiving a complaint, and written semi-annual reports will be submitted that are complaint with the city’s accountability-in-government ordinance.