COMMENTARY: Lately we’ve seen the worst of law enforcement in New Mexico. We’ve also seen the best.
A judge in Albuquerque decided last week that two police officers – Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy – will face murder charges in the 2014 killing of James Boyd, a homeless and mentally ill man whose death was caught on video and seen around the world.
The Albuquerque Police Department is already operating under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, which found last year that APD was using “excessive force” that “constituted an ongoing risk to the public.” Albuquerque police have killed too many people in recent years.
Whether negligence or worse by these two men caused Boyd’s death, or systemic problems at APD, the bottom line is the government took the life of a man who shouldn’t have died.
I’m glad a jury will decide whether Perez and Sandy should be held criminally liable.
Boyd’s death represents law enforcement at its worst. Here’s an example of law enforcement at its best:
Local, state and federal agencies reacted quickly when two small bombs detonated outside Las Cruces churches on Aug. 2. Police spread out across the city looking for additional threats and hunting for those responsible.
I spent the day wandering my city, observing the law-enforcement response. What I witnessed was comforting.
An El Paso Police Department officer even showed up in Las Cruces to help. He patrolled the area around a prayer vigil held on the evening of the explosions.
That day, and in the weeks since, I’ve seen police respond swiftly and firmly to several bomb threats. I’ve seen officers be patient and friendly with people who were put at risk by explosions and inconvenienced by scares that turned out to be false alarms.
Fortunately no one was injured in the blasts. Police are working to keep it that way.
Unfortunately, that sometimes isn’t the experience citizens have with officers. And it’s outrageous that a disproportionate number of people killed by cops are black people and Native Americans.
We need change. A report by the president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing makes important recommendations in areas including transparency, accountability and training.
Police are on the front lines, often encountering people struggling with the effects of societal problems including poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, and structural racism. We must improve police practices so these situations don’t end in death as often.
But that won’t fix the core issues that lead to encounters between police and citizens. We need to focus on those deeper concerns.
Let’s also remember that most officers are hardworking men and women who live in our communities with us. They’re white and black and brown just like the rest of America.
I’ve seen these men and women work tirelessly in recent weeks to try to catch whoever attacked our churches and our freedom to assemble. I’m glad they’re on the job.
We need to weed out the bad apples. Video from police cameras and our own phones is helping with that.
We need to shift the way we approach policing in areas including training and transparency. The Department of Justice is working to change cultures in cities like Albuquerque and Ferguson where entire agencies have gotten out of control.
In spite of those issues, I’m grateful for the officers who are working to keep our communities safe.