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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Justice department forums focus on APD

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By Di Linh Hoang / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Damon Martinez, acting U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice, speaks to community members at a forum Monday evening at Alamosa Community Center. Martinez said his department intends to gather community feedback to help reform the Albuquerque Police Department.

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Officials from the Department of Justice received public input and discussed possible reforms for the Albuquerque Police Department on Monday night.

The meeting, which was held at the Alamosa Community Center, is the first of three forums scheduled to occur throughout the city in the course of the week.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for us to get community feedback,” said Damon Martinez, acting U.S. attorney for the DOJ. “You have so many stakeholders in this process that it is crucial for the community to get feedback … It’s important for us to try to target and understand what people’s feelings are.”

Martinez said the DOJ aims to collect recommendations in order to craft an agreement with the city regarding the APD. He said the department suffers from systemic issues with leadership and training of officers.

Earlier this month the DOJ released findings from an investigation that conclude the APD engages in patterns of excessive force that violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

Luis Saucedo, deputy chief of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, said the department intends to reform the APD and enable it to function on its own without threats of excessive violence.

“We don’t want to create dependency on the DOJ,” he said. “DOJ cannot be here for 100 years policing the police.”

Although the DOJ did listen to some members of the local community speak, the event was not as open to speakers as some believed it would be.

“I think the Department of Justice came here to take interviews with people, but people came here to talk to the Department of Justice and the group,” said Danny Hernandez, a UNM masters student who attended the forum. “I think it was a mixed understanding of what was going to happen.”

Scott Greenwood, a civil rights attorney, spoke at the forum. He said he will negotiate on behalf of the mayor, the City Attorney Office and the community to reform APD.

“You have my pledge to craft an agreement, with my counterparts and colleagues in the room, that fixes the problem,” he said. “It will fix the problem.”

Some speakers during the forum supported the mandatory use of lapel cameras by APD.

Greenwood said he will make recommendations to the city leadership on how to improve the police department. While he did not express the details of the recommendations, Greenwood said one of the topics to be covered is lapel cameras.

“It’s safe to say that the operation and use of lapel cameras will be part of (the recommendations),” he said.

In March, footage captured by a lapel camera of police shooting James Boyd motivated Albuquerque activists to protest APD and hold a vigil for Boyd.

After last week’s fatal shooting of 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, APD Chief Gorden Eden said police were unable to obtain footage from the lapel camera of the officer who shot Hawkes.

Hernandez said he isn’t yet sure that there are going to be changes in APD.

“I don’t trust there are going to be changes until we make changes happen,” he said. “Before you can recover from something you have to admit that you have a problem. And APD has yet to admit that they have a problem.”

The DOJ will hold another community forum Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Palo Duro Senior Center. The final meeting will be Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Cesar Chavez Community Center.