A Citizens Police Oversight Committee in Las Cruces would improve dialogue with LCPD
I believe this city needs a Citizens Police Oversight Committee. Our police kill too many of us for a town our size; the Valenzuela and Baca cases raised serious questions of possible criminal liability; and on Baca, the administration stonewalled – and released a misleading PR video.
We need a CPOC; but incremental improvements are worthy of discussion.
A retired DASO deputy says too many traffic stops for vehicular defects get misused by officers.
Officer Smelser attempted a hold LCPD had trained him on, though it’s now disapproved. (Could a CPOC have helped LCPD reach that decision earlier?) The men were battling. Should they have been?
Valenzuela had a warrant pending, so the cops were meant to bring him in; when he ran, it was natural to pursue him; but his alleged crimes were nonviolent. The system suffers if folks can ignore warrants; but a warrant could be for unpaid traffic fines or a codes violation. (Authorities often don’t know whether you’re thumbing your nose at your obligation, or have moved, or are incarcerated on some other charge. Maybe you slept in someone’s garden, urinated on a sidewalk, or owned property with too much junk or unsafe conditions.)
Former Sun-News columnist and veteran Michael Hays suggests five changes:
1. Police may not pursue anyone because of non-vehicular misdemeanors or non-violent felonies.
2. Police may not use any weapon—taser, pistol, rifle, spray—or body-damaging or life-endangering technique to stop or subdue anyone because of misdemeanors or non-violent felonies.
3. Police may use a weapon only in response to the actual use of a weapon. Any use of a weapon by any officer(s) will be proportionate to that use. (The Army rule—do not fire unless fired upon—would apply.)
4. All tickets must include certification to the truth of the charge(s), under penalty of perjury, and altering charges would amount to tampering with evidence.
5. Quarterly public accountability sessions attended by City Council, managed by the City Manager, and staffed in person by the Chief of Police, to answer questions or address criticisms posed orally by members of the public.
These are the sort of issues on which a CPOC could hear a variety of views and make recommendations to the LCPD. Some form of #5 seems particularly important. Police Chief Dominguez has conceded there’s no public trust in the police. (Neither stonewalling nor moves like the PR video about Sra. Baca’s killing foster trust.) Such sessions, are precisely what Earl Nissen has witnessed at Albuquerque CPOC’s monthly meetings; but Hays is also right that quarterly sessions would be an improvement. Internal Affairs is not an answer, even short-term. An ombudsperson might be; but without a CPOC, some other steps need to be taken to convince folks the sessions are unbiased, and possibly to protect against retaliation.
These are promising ideas that deserve more discussion. One problem is that “hindering, obstructing, or evading an officer” and battery (including battery on a police officer) are misdemeanors. Some defendants are not reasonable. Some are drunk, hear voices, believe they’re agents for the CIA or NATO, or did it because God said to. Taser or spray may be the appropriate and safest tactic.
We need improvements. Now. We should be discussing those. We need a way to discuss them with police. So far, LCPD enthusiasm has been disappointing. We clearly need some way to make dialogue happen.