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THE VIEW FROM HERE

Our community must find its own solutions

Posted

In October, a representative for Public Safety Strategies Group, a private firm based out of Maryland that had been hired by the city to conduct regular police audits, presented an update to the city council. It did not go well.

The presenter started by explaining that he was a last-minute fill-in for the person who was supposed to make the presentation. He could not answer questions as simple as, “Have complaints against officers increased or decreased in the past year?”

The city council decided to outsource oversight of the police department to private firms following growing complaints in 2007 and 2008 about police shootings and excessive use of force, along with growing demands to create a citizen’s review board to take an independent look at those complaints.

LCPD leaders argued that people who have never had law enforcement training or experience were not qualified to pass judgement on police conduct. Better to leave that to the pros, they said. 

Now, following widespread protests here and throughout the nation and the arrest of an LCPD officer on charges related to a man’s death, the council appears ready to exert more oversight of its police department.

At a virtual work session Monday that started more than an hour late and was woefully lacking in public input, council members heard a report on “8 Can’t Wait” – eight proposed police reforms being pushed nationwide that advocates claim would reduce police violence by 72 percent.

The reforms would ban chokeholds and neck restraint, require de-escalation training, require warning before shots are fired, require that all alternatives be exhausted before shooting, require officers to intervene if they witness other officers using excessive force, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require a use-of-force continuum and require comprehensive reporting of incidents involving force.

Las Cruces Police Lt. Shane Briscoe said the department already does many of those things. But the use-of-force continuum is impractical, because it assumes all situations and officers are the same, he said. For example, a smaller or older officer may not have the same options as a larger, stronger officer.

And officers have the right to shoot at a moving vehicle if they are about to be run over, he added.

There is a ban on chokeholds now, but it was not put in place until after the death of Antonio Valenzuela, allegedly as the result of a police officer’s chokehold.

Monday’s work session, called by Mayor Ken Miyagishima, was a shaky but necessary first discussion. No action could be taken, which is good, because they weren’t ready to act.

More discussion is needed, with public comment not limited to the mayor’s dry recitation of emails. And Chief Patrick Gallagher, who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting, needs to take part.

We didn’t solve our problems by outsourcing oversight, and we won’t solve them by blindly accepting a pre-packaged remedy pushed by a national advocacy group. Racism and police violence are a national problem, but each community is responsible for finding its own solutions.

The contract with Public Safety Strategies Group expired at the end of the year. That would make this a good time to bring back the idea of a citizen’s review board.

Miyagishima said he opposed the citizen’s review board when it came up years ago, and still believes outside audits work better.

“The police department likes it because they get to police themselves,” he said.

That’s the exact reason why I’m suspicious of it.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.