ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department will investigate the Albuquerque Police Department after a string of officer-involved shootings and a number of high-profile abuse cases, Justice officials confirmed Tuesday.
The announcement, first reported by the Albuquerque Journal, comes months after the police department in New Mexico's biggest city was the target of protests, lawsuits and demands for wide-scale agency overhaul from civil rights advocates amid 25 officer-involved shootings — 17 of them fatal — since 2010.
In addition, the Albuquerque Police Department has been plagued in recent months by a number of high-profile cases alleging excessive force by officers, including some cases caught on video.
One video showed officers giving each other celebratory "belly bumps" after beating a suspected car thief in a parking garage. Another clip showed an officer illegally entering an apartment and using a stun gun on one suspect, then punching another suspect after he had surrendered.
The department also was forced to change its social media policy involving officers after a detective shot and killed a man last year and listed his occupation as "human waste disposal" on his Facebook page. The detective was later suspended and transferred out of the department's gang unit to field services.
A press conference was scheduled Tuesday to announce the details of the pending probe following a visit by federal officials to Albuquerque more than a year ago. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez and U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Kenneth Gonzales are scheduled to give more information about the pending investigation.
Until Tuesday's confirmation, Justice Department officials had said they were reviewing potential civil rights abuses but had not said when they would make a decision on whether to launch a full-scale investigation.
A spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department said she has not been given any information to comment on the pending federal probe.
Dayna Gardner, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, said the mayor would speak to reporters at the U.S. Justice Department press conference.
For months, Berry and Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz have sought to stage off a possible federal probe into the department by instituting a number of reforms and raising hiring requirements for incoming cadets. A report from an outside group last year called for changes in training and other procedures, including requiring officers to undergo more training on how to calm potentially violent situations and changing hiring criteria to focus on individuals with good problem-solving and communications skills. The report also made several recommendations on helping police deal with the mentally ill.
In September, the Albuquerque Police Department released information that compared new policies with other cities, saying they were stricter than those required under federal consent decrees in New Orleans and Seattle.
The department also this year began requiring all officers to wear lapel cameras when interacting with the public. Schultz said the lapel cameras and the release of videos involving alleged abuse show that his department was being transparent and responding to community concerns about Albuquerque police.
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