Proposed legislation would create database to track problem officers

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SANTA FE, N.M. – Last year, lawmakers made changes and improvements to the agency in charge of handling officer misconduct. But the “tracking” part of that legislation didn’t make it out of the Roundhouse last session.

“I mean it’s embarrassing that I can get food reviews on my phone quicker than I can find out information about bad officers,” said former Attorney General Hector Balderas. 

Balderas got the wheels turning last year, and lawmakers passed legislation aimed at the state Law Enforcement Academy Board.

In addition to handing the board more legal authority and resources, the board was split in two: one part to handle officer training, the other to focus on certification and misconduct.

But a proposed database to track problem officers did not make the cut.

“I have always believed that the vast majority of police officers and law enforcement officers are doing incredibly difficult work under incredibly challenging circumstances, but we have an obligation to rebuild public confidence,” said Attorney General Raúl Torrez. 

That concept is something new, Attorney General Raúl Torrez says, is worth revisiting with new legislation. He points to his work as Bernalillo County district attorney creating the state’s first publicly accessible list disclosing officers whose testimony, he says, can compromise a case due to past wrongdoing.

“It is fundamentally focused on allegations of dishonesty or financial fraud, theft, mishandling of evidence or some pattern of bias towards a particular group,” said Torrez. 

He says it’s a framework.

“What we’ve asked is for this to become a statewide standard for mandatory disclosures for comprehensive screening for integrity issues, but there’s one other component that’s been added to it. What we noticed is that often times, or sometimes, the Law Enforcement Academy Board would have information about an officer, but there was no process for the LEA board to then send that information back down to prosecutors,” said Torrez. 

“It’s just another thing, it’s just another lack of support, it’s just another attack on law enforcement,” said Shawn Willoughby with the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association.   

Willoughby argues against the so-called success in Bernalillo County. 

“Just like when Mr. Torrez did it in Albuquerque it’s more about politics than subsistence. there really aren’t that many officers in the state, period, and there aren’t many officers that fit within the criteria to make this a big priority,” said Willoughby. “The Law Enforcement Academy Board needs to be given the tools the opportunities and funding to do their job.”

Willoughby says the Legislature did that last year. He says it will take time to see if the gaps start to close.

“Think about disclosure as a way to show by and large, the system is not impacted by integrity issues. But when it is impacted by integrity issues, those of us in law enforcement are taking a proactive step to disclose the information so that we can improve investigations, protect the community and bring more transparency to the entire system,” said Torrez. 

The proposed bill would also require the LEA board to notify prosecutors within 30 days if a police officer’s certification has been revoked.

Right now, though, it’s only an idea and needs the backing of a lawmaker to be introduced this session.