Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NM Law Enforcement Academy Board holds final meeting

The board that has overseen New Mexico’s police training and certification agency since 1969 held its last meeting ever on Wednesday, and will split in two as a result of a new state law going into effect this summer.

The seven-member New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board will be bifurcated into the Law Enforcement Standards and Training Council, and the Law Enforcement Certification Board. Both the Council and the Board will have 11 members.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on April 4 signed the split into law after state lawmakers, nearly unanimously, passed legislation requiring it. The law goes into effect July 1.

The new law also establishes a statewide use of force standard for all police and sheriff’s deputies in New Mexico. It also requires new training, policies and procedures for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, a division that oversees the New Mexico State Police.

The legislation was spurred in part by New Mexico’s extremely high rate of police killings. Research has shown the rate of police killings in New Mexico has more than doubled between the 1980s and the 2010s, with a big jump in the most recent decade.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, chair of the outgoing board, on Wednesday commended Academy interim director Benjamin Baker for his work on preparing for the transition to the two new boards.

“He has done a lot, the staff here has done a lot, to really restore public confidence in this board,” Torrez said. “I look forward to seeing how the new framework evolves over time.”

Baker said Academy officials will be “facilitating the onboarding and the once-in-a-generation legislative and structural change that this place is undergoing as we speak.”

“We will be undertaking that the moment that it is permissible to do so,” Baker said.

At the end of the meeting, there was no timeline given for when the two new boards will be created or when they will first meet.

“I want to thank the Board for their commitment to an absolutely necessary public service, to a process that helps restore in some cases — or maintain — the public’s trust, in our licensed professionals who maintain a significant amount of influence and power within their communities,” Baker said.

Misconduct database

Under the new law, the Certification Board will be required to create a searchable, public database showing outcomes of investigations into allegations of misconduct against police and emergency dispatchers.

The Certification Board will investigate police misconduct and deny, suspend or revoke police licenses. Police shootings will still be investigated by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy has five hearing officers who conduct the formal hearings in police misconduct cases, said Baker, who is also deputy cabinet secretary for the public safety department.

The board must create the database by July 1, 2024, and the public must be able to search it for any investigations that lead to police or dispatchers being fired or having their license suspended or revoked.

The new law does not require the database to include ongoing investigations, nor does it require police departments to check the database before hiring an officer or dispatcher.

Police violence reform

The new law requires every police department in New Mexico to adopt policies on police violence called “use of force.”

The law requires police to use de-escalation when reasonable and available, and clarifies the definition of a chokehold.

Police department’s and sheriff’s offices are mandated to require their officers who see another officer using force, which they believe to be excessive, to report the incident to their supervisor.

However, the bill does not specify any penalties if local departments refuse to adopt these policies, nor does it say what happens when a department refuses to discipline an officer for unlawful violence.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board held its final meeting ever in Santa Fe on June 14, 2023. Albuquerque Police Officer Hence Williams III, Taos Police Chief Summer Mirabal, Board Counsel Joe Dworak, Attorney General Raúl Torrez and 11th Judicial District Attorney Robert Patrick Tedrow appeared in person, while State Police Chief Tim Johnson appeared by phone. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

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