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Monday, March 31, 2014

Tear Gas Wafts Through The ABQ Air As Rage Over APD Spills Into The Streets. Plus: Just How Did We Get Here? Political History Cited As Cause For Eruption In APD Shootings, Also: There Are Answers To This 

Tear gas wafts through the ABQ air
It was a trip back to the 60's and early 70's in ABQ Sunday night as bottled up rage against the ABQ police department spilled into the streets replete with 60's style civil disobedience, police outfitted in riot gear, tear gas fired and arrests made.

This was a much edgier protest than last Tuesday's in which hundreds gathered at the steps of APD downtown to protest APD's killing of  James Boyd, a homeless man suffering from mental illness.

This demonstration over Boyd's slaying went organic with protesters holding the streets for 10 hours, marching to APD headquarters and near UNM and Nob Hill. Protesters were often confrontational, taunting the police knowing that if the cops overreacted it would go viral and give the department yet another black eye.

The protest climaxed with police firing tear gas at protesters at Central and Princeton across from UNM and at least several arrests. At 11 p.m. tear gas was fired at protesters at APD headquarters.

Protests like these will increase support for the APD among some but also harden the position of those who want action to clean up the department and end the chaos. Both views were reflected in comments on the TV news websites and other social media as the protests played out.

We know this: ABQ politics has entered a new phase--from an atmosphere drenched in apathy to one where the unexpected and the bewildering can and does occur.

NOT SURPRISING

It may be the least surprising poll we've seen in recent years:

The telephone survey of registered voters indicates that only 15 percent believe the (James Boyd) shooting was justified and that 53 percent say it wasn’t. The remainder, about 32 percent, had no opinion or didn’t know.

The now infamous--and gruesome--video of the mentally unstable and homeless Boyd being gunned down by APD in the Sandia foothills has taken a spiritual toll on the state's largest city. And the political toll?. . . .

We said several years ago that the outcome of the APD crisis would be the defining moment for ABQ Mayor Richard Berry. Unfortunately for him, that outcome is now apparent and it is devastating. Can you imagine Berry ever running for political office again without that video haunting him?

Even his fellow Republican--Gov. Martinez--sees the handwriting on the proverbial wall. Rather than delivering video of the Boyd killing taken by NM State Police to APD, she sent it directly to the FBI for use in their criminal investigation of the shooting, She didn't even tell her friend the Mayor,

And that's how it will be in the days ahead. Politicians--desperately trying to get ahead of the public parade--will continue to scurry for cover faster than a cat in a thunderstorm.

Susana throwing Berry under the bus makes political sense as it is meant to protect her from becoming the target of the many ABQ residents riled up over APD. After all, it's her name on the ballot this year.

Reader Charles Arasim adds:

Until the FBI is finished with its investigation into the fatal APD shooting of James Boyd, the pat answer from any NM governmental official will be something along these lines...

"The FBI has an ongoing investigation in this case and it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment at this time."

Perhaps. But the questions about how the state deals with mentally ill citizens won't stop.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Chavez, Berry & White
Private investigator Michael Corwin, who for a time ran a PAC critical of the Governor, has long experience with police shootings, dating back to Los Angeles in the 80's and continuing with investigations of some of the many police shootings that have plagued ABQ since 2010. He recounts how we arrived at the crossroads we are at today:

The seeds of this crisis began in 2007 during Mayor Chavez's push to expand APD to 1,100 officers and with it a failure to scrutinize officers coming from other police departments. Either the city didn't do its research, or simply turned a blind eye to officers with a history of problematic conduct. However, the pattern of shootings in ABQ did not begin in earnest until 2010. . .

Mayor Berry won election in 2009 thanks in large part to Democrats splitting their votes between two of their candidates and the work of Jay McCleskey, now known as the "Fifth Floor" because of his Svengali like influence over Governor Martinez. One of Berry's first actions before taking office was to name Darren White, a close McCleskey associate, as the Public Safety Director, a position that under Chavez had been largely ceremonial . However, Berry made White the boss of the police chief, giving him full control of the department. Berry also brought into his administration another McCleskey/White insider, Rob Perry, now chief administrative officer.

White came with a lot of baggage. As secretary for the Department of Public Safety, he was criminally investigated for using state resources to benefit the Imus Brothers, was given a resounding vote of no confidence by NMSP officers and was extensively involved in the politically driven firing of NM US Attorney David Iglesias. Iglesias once described White as, a “shoot from the hip kind of lawman” who “shoots first and asks questions later.” 

Many of the shootings involve mentally ill people. Rather than defuse situations, officers involved constantly escalated them, leading inevitably to the shooting, or in some cases simply shot the person within seconds of arriving on the scene. Shoot first and ask questions later. In response to the shootings, White held press conferences and went before the city council following shootings not just to support the shooters, but to praise them. 

White's term at the city ended in disgrace over his involving himself at the scene of his wife's one car accident and his removing her from the scene before a genuine investigation could take place. Which came only a few months after improperly involving himself at the scene of an undetermined death of a business partner (attorney Mary Han) of a close political associate, which also came in 2010. He has since gone on to benefit yet again from his close ties to McCleskey  However, the damage to the department was done, and a culture created that will take years to undo.

Not surprisingly, Berry recently chose another White/McCleskey insider to lead the police department--Gorden Eden--a cabinet official from Martinez's administration. He did so despite interviews with out of state applicants that had much more experience running police departments. 

The shootings continue unabated despite the presence of a DOJ investigation. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different outcome. 

Until an outsider, and not a political crony, is hired to run the department, one who is capable of breaking the culture, the shootings will continue.

Thanks, Michael. That is the best summation we've seen to date of what has happened to our police department.  Other views? Send them in.

THERE ARE ANSWERS

Monahan
There are clear-cut answers to the killing of Boyd and that of 9 year old Omaree Varela--at least they appear that way to this corner. They are just not the answers that the current governmental leadership and the conservative press apparently want to hear.

For APD, the long-term answer is the appointment of a Federal Monitor from out of state--with absolutely no ties to APD--to take over the department for a minimum of three years. That's how other police departments have recovered from out-of-control cultures. What makes us different?

As for the epidemic of mentally ill persons on our streets and the child abuse cases such as Omaree, it's going to take money. Money solves problems in poor states.

We have the money. $6 million was left unspent by CYFD last fiscal year. Spend it. And we potentially have $78 million that is currently used for indigent care at the University of New Mexico Hospital that could be devoted to mental health intervention as Obamacare beings to pick up the indigent care tab.

There is nearly $14 billion in the state's Permanent Fund--some of which could be devoted via constitutional amendment to very early childhood education--zero to five--that would interrupt the generations-old cycle of failure.

Of course, the money has to be spent wisely and targeted, but it has to be spent. Money solves problems.

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