US inquiry may order Albuquerque police oversight

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Associated Press

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 9 at 2:05 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice is set to release its report Thursday on the troubled Albuquerque Police Department and could mandate federal oversight and reforms costing the city millions of dollars, steps it's required of other law enforcement agencies it's scrutinized.

The announcement will follow a more than yearlong investigation into possible civil rights violations and excessive use of force by Albuquerque officers. Complaints from local advocacy groups helped launch the inquiry.

If a monitor is appointed, Albuquerque would join cities including Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle that are subject to federal oversight.

The Albuquerque Police Department has faced intense criticism for 37 shootings by officers since 2010 — more than 20 of them deadly.

Federal officials have released few details of the Albuquerque investigation but conducted hundreds of interviews with officials and residents.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has asked the federal agency to expedite its review and aid in reforms. His request followed a violent protest last month of the fatal shooting of a homeless man who had threatened to kill officers. He was gathering his belongings and turning away when officers opened fire, helmet camera video showed.

Scrutiny of the Albuquerque force is one of 15 investigations of police departments launched during President Barack Obama's first term.

In 2010, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into allegations of constitutional violations, corruption and discriminatory policies in the city's police department. The federal agency proposed a consent decree — a legally binding document in which a city promises to adhere to and maintain whatever reforms the Justice Department orders.

The cost of instituting the city's consent decree was estimated at about $55 million over five years.

In 2012, federal officials found Portland, Ore., police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illnesses. Federal investigators and the city reached a settlement calling for changes to police policies on use of force, stun guns, training, discipline and oversight. It also called for restructuring police crisis intervention training and faster internal inquiries into cases of police misconduct.

The Portland reforms were estimated to cost $3 million to $5 million a year.

In Albuquerque, officials said this week that they welcomed the Justice Department announcement and were prepared to negotiate with federal officials over a possible monitor.

"As the Albuquerque Police Department has done for the past several years, we will continue to work cooperatively with the DOJ in order to implement the best practices for our community," Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement.

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