ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday called for police reforms amid the latest round of protests in New Mexico and elsewhere over excessive force.
Balderas said state lawmakers should create uniform use of force policies that would be codified within state law to require body cameras and ban chokeholds, among other things.
“Increased transparency and accountability protects the community, as well as law enforcement,” Balderas said in a statement.
As chairman of the state Law Enforcement Academy Board, Balderas in 2016 called on a committee of experts to review how each of New Mexico’s municipal and county law enforcement agencies investigates the use of deadly force by their own officers. At the time, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the move seemed to offer the prospect of establishing a statewide standard for handling shootings by police.
A report with recommendations was drafted in 2017 but failed to gain traction as many police departments said a year later that they hadn't even received the policy recommendations.
Balderas' office did not immediately respond when asked about the attorney general's efforts to push for reforms in the wake of the report.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico welcomed the 2016 review but at the time had called on the attorney general to follow through.
Peter Simonson, the executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said Tuesday he believes it's time to call for basic statewide standards for ensuring the proper use of force. He said that request should go beyond banning chokeholds and involve the creation of what he called a rigorous system of accountability.
“If we truly want to bring down the pattern of excessive use of force, we need to ensure that law enforcement agencies are properly investigating use of force incidents, identifying policy violations and disciplining officers for those violations,” he said.
Balderas' office said the previous review by members of the Law Enforcement Academy Board was meant to identify gaps in police department policies and to make recommendations on best practices. The board, which oversees the licensing of police officers across the state, does not govern department policies.
The Albuquerque Police Department, the largest in the state, has been implementing reforms for several years under a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. Federal authorities in 2014 issued a scathing report in response to a series of deadly police shootings in the city that pointed to patterns of excessive force, constitutional violations and a lack of training and oversight of its officers.
Mayor Tim Keller said recently that Albuquerque has made strides in overhauling its police department and that the work continues.
Albuquerque police have been using cameras for years, but the state Law Offices of the Public Defender is calling on the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office to mandate cameras for its deputies. Sheriff Manuel Gonzales has long expressed opposition but said he was willing to talk with District Attorney Raúl Torrez .
Balderas' office also said Tuesday it was investigating an alleged use of force incident involving Gallup police last year that resulted in the death of 41-year-old Rodney Lynch.
In that case, officers were dispatched to a department store on June 28, 2019, to remove an intoxicated man, who was later identified as Lynch. Police say Lynch was combative with the officers on scene and was taken into custody and transported to an alcohol treatment center.
When they arrived at the facility, police say Lynch struck one of the officers and again became combative. As officers tried to gain control of Lynch, a sergeant noticed that Lynch appeared unconscious. He was transported to a Gallup-area hospital and then to an Albuquerque hospital where he later died.