Former APD commander Nick Bakas said he supports communication and strives to confront any issue with meaningful discussion. He said the Albuquerque Police Department should do the same.
“I’ve always admired an officer who can go into the situation and talk and communicate, sit down and have an eye-to-eye conversation with an individual who may have made a bad decision, rather than resorting to force,” Bakas said.“Not that you are always going to have success talking to people, but that should be our first entry into the issue.”
Bakas, who now works as a private investigator, said the most recent APD shooting took place in a spot that used to be under his command.
“That’s my former area of command; I know the area well,” Bakas said. “My friend and classmate was gunned down by an armed robber feet away from where this young lady was shot and killed, so that was a bit of déjà vu … But it’s a tough situation all the way around.”
On April 21, an APD officer shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes. Police say Hawkes was suspected of auto theft.
Bakas said the problem with officers’ use of force might stem from lack of education in communication and dealing with specific situations. He said this may be the result of the creation of specialized task forces.
“Back in the days when I was working the streets as a young cop, we didn’t have all these specialty units — the SWAT team, this team, that team,” Bakas said. “You had to be able to say, ‘Hey, how do we take care of this? What do we need to do?’ rather than back off and call in the specialty unit to take care of it. You had to handle it. You had to be able to communicate.”
Bakas said he cannot claim to be neutral when it comes to the Department of Justice report on Albuquerque law enforcement because he has actively worked for the state and the government. Bakas said he read the DOJ report and thought it was harsh, but possibly what is needed for growth.
“It’s very scathing, very damning, very difficult to acknowledge,” he said. “But acknowledge we must. I’m all in favor of taking the recommendations to heart and moving forward with what it’s going to take for us to improve as a department, and as a city.”
Bakas said the situation involves much more than the police force. He said he does not want to see the force isolated and viewed as a unique problem by the public.
“I don’t think it’s solely a police issue,” he said. “I would hate for individuals to get the impression that citizens can simply stand back and keep score with respect to the actions of police officers. I think, as I read the DOJ report, that there is work for everyone to do.”
Bakas said teamwork is needed to remedy what has already happened and that there will need to be collaboration between politicians, business groups and religious groups. He said that families, school systems and the mental health community will have to step up and provide a solid support structure for individuals in order for progress to occur.