Created: 07/09/2014 10:39 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4
New Mexico's largest police department, mired in controversy over the use of excessive force, is about to supply military-style weapons to officers using taxpayer money.
The investigative team at KOB Eyewitness News 4 learned that Albuquerque Police awarded a bid to a local vendor for the purchase of AR-15 rifles -- the type of gun used to kill James Boyd in the foothills in March.
According to the request for bid, which ended two weeks ago, the department would likely purchase 350 guns in the first year of a two-year contract. Thereafter, it would order quantities of 50 as necessary.
"You're asking for trouble, in my opinion," Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico said.
Simonson was unaware of the department's purchasing plans until KOB contacted him. He thought APD was moving away from using high-powered weapons after the Department of Justice said APD officers have a "pattern and practice" of using excessive and deadly force.
"I think it sends a contradictory message to the public, and I think it should raise concerns about how seriously they're actually taking the DOJ reforms," he said.
In May, Chief Gorden Eden told officers they could no longer carry their personally-owned weapons -- including AR-15s -- in the field. The DOJ found that officers would purchase expensive weapons and viewed them as "status symbols."
Two weeks ago, the ACLU released a report which found local police departments, nationwide, are becoming more and more militarized.
"I don't think it's militarizing the department," APD Union President Stephanie Lopez said of the AR-15 purchasing plans.
She said roughly 320 APD officers are trained to shoot rifles -- training they paid for themselves. She said they rightfully requested the department to purchases rifles after they were told to leave their own at home.
"Because that training shouldn't go to waste. There is a need to have these weapons on the street and within the department," she said.
Lopez referred to the shooting rampage led by suspect Christopher Chase in October. He was dressed in body armor and targeted officers -- before and during a miles-long chase through Albuquerque -- using an assault rifle. Lopez said officers were able to stop him using weapons similar to AR-15s. She said standard-issue handguns and shotguns weren't enough.
"They were ineffective," she said. They were unable to disable the car Chase was driving.
KOB requested Chief Gorden Eden to address the purchasing plans on-camera, but his spokesperson said he was unavailable on Tuesday.
Through a statement, spokesperson Janet Blair said:
"The rifles were ordered as replacements for officers' authorized personally-owned rifles. They are being issued only to officers who are qualified to carry rifles and do not represent an increase in the number of rifles carried by APD officers. Chief Gorden E. Eden, Jr. ordered replacement side arms for all officers in a move towards standardization of weaponry. This is an extension of that program to ensure that officers who are authorized to use certain equipment are using the standardized equipment issued by the Department. The replacement rifles are the standard type of rifle used commonly by police departments throughout the United States and may be purchased by any person at a commercial retailer. The rifles cost approximately $1000 each and the bid was awarded to a local vendor."
Although other departments use the weapons, they sometimes bring controversy. For instance, Boston police squabbled with a new mayor in late December over plans to purchase 33 AR-15 rifles.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry's staff said the mayor would not comment on the purchasing plans since his office was not responsible for them.
Note: A previous version of this story identified an AR-15 as a military-grade weapon when in fact it is not. The AR-15 is the civilian version of the military-grade M16.