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Friday, December 19, 2014

DOJ investigators host public forum on police

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By Frida Salazar / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Antoine Pirard complains that a sign held by a protester is offensive and does not belong in the forum held by Department of Justice about the Albuquerque Police Department, Wednesday
evening at the César Chávez Community Center.

assistant-news@dailylobo.com
@zachpavlik

Community members shared stories and brainstormed potential solutions regarding the Albuquerque Police Department to Department of Justice investigators Wednesday.

In a large room at the César Chavez Community Center, more than 100 people waited for their turn to give their opinions about the recent shootings to the DOJ.

Some attendees wanted heavy regulations for the department, while others believed lenience was a better way to go.

Issues brought up by the public included perceived racial profiling by officers, lack of trust in APD, the lack of citizen voice in police matters, government corruption and media corruption.

Carol Chapman, a community member who attended the forum, said the psychological health needs of officers should be a priority for the department.

“I think that during the course of their careers, there should be routine psychological exams, every three to five years. Especially after they are involved in a really horrendous incident,” Chapman said. “I don’t think that they should hire officers that have been dismissed from other police forces or the military, especially if there is cause.”

Chapman also told the DOJ investigators that the creation of a citizen oversight group would be helpful, she said. Citizens would oversee the actions of APD and provide an unbiased opinion in all police issues, she said.

“I would like to see a strong, independent civilian oversight entity that has the power to broadcast their own results and does not fall under the authority of the city council, the mayor or whoever,” she said.

Citizens need to voice their opinions on tough issues, especially if they are not satisfied with what they see going on, Chapman said.

“As a citizen I have a responsibility,” she said. “If you keep quiet, you get what you get. It’s like voting, if you don’t like the way things are going, then you need to vote. If you don’t like what’s happening at the Albuquerque Police Department, then you have to step forward.”

Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Union, said at the forum that she was glad to see the participation of the community. She said it is vital to a better understanding of the community’s opinions and discovering ways to help the department move forward.

The report, and the faults it found, was taken personally by many officers, she said. She said administration should be held accountable.

“I think recommendations were geared more towards our upper administration. At the end of the day, the rank and file and the officers you have as detectives or boots on the ground are doing the job they are told to do, and trained to do,” Lopez said.

There are changes which need to be made to the department as a whole, but change will require teamwork among the community, the officers and the administration in order to be successful, she said.

“Change is going to be hard, but in the end it will be good for both the community and the department. The officers that you do have here working for this department choose to be here because they do want to protect and serve,” Lopez said.