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The Las Cruces City Council recently heard the results of a semi-annual audit of the Las Cruces Police Department.
At the council’s Feb. 27 work session, Theresa Magula of California’s OIR group summarized the audit and answered questions from councilors. OIR is a team of independent police reviewers, with 17 years’ experience, which reviewed LCPD cases from June 1, 2022, to Nov. 30, 2022.
The city’s contract with OIR enabled the review of 16 cases, which included 11 formal citizen complaints and five internal investigations.
“The Investigations overall were complete, objective and thorough, with continued room for improvement,” Magula said. “The actions taken in response to investigations were appropriate with a commitment to accountability. … The department is engaging in more real-time training, more one-on-one counseling, the types of discipline that we found to be more appropriate this period than in the last.”
Magula said improvements in this most recent audit included faster completion of investigations and the department’s commitment to ongoing training.
“When we first came to you, we were very concerned that these investigations were getting drawn out and why were they so delayed?,” Magula said. “The department has staffed up the (investigation) unit so they have more investigators doing the reports, adhering much more regularly to those timely standards.”
Among the 16 complaints OIR reviewed, there were 39 allegations. They include complaints about the code of conduct (such as an officer being discourteous or performing in a manner unbecoming of a peace officer), delayed reports, failure to investigate in the way a complainant expected, compliance with policies, body-worn cameras and excessive use of force (2).
One area of the police department the audit did not cover is use of force.
The city council indicated it wanted to expand the scope of work for future audits to include use of force.
Of the allegations OIR audited, 16 were exonerated (meaning the act as alleged occurred, but response was within the department’s laws or policies); 11 were sustained (meaning there was a violation of department law or policy); nine were unfounded (the act as alleged did not occur); and three were non-sustained (OIR could not determine whether the act did or did not occur).
The complaints originated from the following sources: calls for service (11); ethics hotline (2); public observation (1); supervisory issues (1); and welfare check (1).
The allegations involved 21 LCPD employees, including one lieutenant, two sergeants, 11 officers, two non-sworn officers and 5 non-sworn employees. Of those, 14 were Hispanic, six were white and one was African-American.
The complaints came from seven white citizens, six Hispanic citizens and two anonymous.
Magula said the limited demographic data does not suggest bias or patterns of practice.
For the complaints that were sustained, discipline of the LCPD employees ranged from a verbal or written reprimand up to a 20-hour suspension. Each case was accompanied by training and counseling.
Regarding additional policies and training, OIR recommended the department update its persons with disability policy, adding LCPD is already actively working to update it.
Regarding de-escalation training, OIR said LCPD is committed to regular, recurring training. OIR also addressed use of the WRAP device, which is placed around the body of a subject meant to restrain a combative subject. OIR said the department’s use of the device was generally appropriate, but noted in one case it was used on a woman who was reportedly pregnant, which violates department policy.
“Overall,” Magula said, “your police department is extremely professional, patient and very commendable in their in their interactions with the public. It only takes that one incidence of officers acting in a manner that is less than professional to put this department in the headlines.”
LCPD Chief Miguel Dominguez said another concern is use of profanity by officers, and he said most of their trainings include sessions on professional and emotional intelligence. Dominguez added that a use-of-force cadre has already been formed, and it reviews any uses of force that need to be investigated. The department also has interpreters of almost any language readily available.
City councilors had questions, and there were more public input questions and comments than had ever occurred in previous audit reviews.
“The feeling right now in our community is that you’re not getting all the information,” City Councilor Yvonne Flores said. “There’s a concern that you’re not getting the review of all cases.”
“It comes down to our scope of work as it was authored for this particular engagement,” Magula said. “The contract could be modified to expand the pool of cases to review.”
Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the contract expires in May, and the city will likely renegotiate and expand the scope of work.
“We need to understand how those cases that were given to OIR were selected,” said Liz Rodriguez-Johnson during the public comment segment. “If they do not get the worst cases, they’re only helping us with stuff that can be resolved in amenable fashion.”
Magula said the cases are sent to them based on their classification. Cases that are classified as international investigations or an external investigation category 1, are automatically sent.
Miyagishima added that some cases involving use of force are closed because of litigation.