Less than three weeks before Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., opened a national debate on the use of deadly force by police, city and federal authorities here set forth a plan to transform a local law enforcement agency with a stunningly violent reputation.
In some ways, the experience could serve as a lesson for Ferguson.
Since 2009, according to city records, Albuquerque Police Department officers have been involved in 47 shootings, 32 of which resulted in deaths — a body count that Police Chief Gorden Eden said has called attention to a “systemic failure in our ability to track employee misconduct.”
Civil lawsuits have cost the city millions of dollars. More than that, a Justice Department review of at least 20 of those civilian killings concluded earlier this year that a “majority … were unconstitutional.”
Though municipal officials have acknowledged deep-rooted, institutional problems, Eden bluntly warned that a fix will not be easy.
“I believe there are people on the force who shouldn’t be on the force,” the chief told USA TODAY. How many officers, and the depths of their alleged transgressions, Eden would not say. But more problematic, because of the difficulties of enforcing retroactive discipline within bounds of a union contract, the chief said the city may simply be unable to remove problem officers, even with the Justice Department’s intervention.
“Yes, we may be stuck with them,” he said.