ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The president and vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association resigned Tuesday in the wake of New Mexico activists calling for a federal probe into recent city police shootings.
President Joey Sigala and Vice President Felipe Garcia stepped down after a union board meeting. A union representative said Sigala and Garcia both requested to be reassigned within the association and the board will hold an emergency meeting Thursday.
Albuquerque police shot and killed two men last week and officers have been involved in 23 shootings since January 2010, with 18 ending in fatalities.
Critics say those numbers are far too high for a city of 550,000 and link the deaths to a practice of union payments to officers involved in such shootings, calling the union program a “bounty.”
The Albuquerque Police Department says the number of deadly shootings has been dropping since it instituted more than 40 recommendations from two outside consulting groups last year.
And the police union defends the payments, saying the checks for up to $500 help cover expenses for officers and their families “to find a place to have some privacy and time to decompress outside the Albuquerque area.”
Albuquerque police were involved in 14 shootings, nine fatal, in 2010. There were six police-involved shootings last year, all fatal. And there have been three fatal police-involved shootings so far this year.
By contrast, New York City police fatally shot eight people and injured 16 in 2010. The population of New York is about 8 million.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said Monday that her office is conducting a preliminary review of the Albuquerque shootings, but no decision has been made regarding a formal investigation.
Albuquerque police last year instituted several changes, including college or military service requirements for all new cadets and automatic independent reviews for all officer-involved shootings.
Police Chief Ray Schultz credited the changes with a reduction in the number of police shootings. He also said it’s unfair to compare cities on officer-involved shootings since each deals with different circumstances, economies and department reactions.
Jewel Hall, an Albuquerque civil rights leader, said activists are planning to increase pressure on elected officials. Activists plan to speak out at the next Albuquerque City Council meeting, and a group is organizing a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with DOJ officials. A criminal DOJ investigation could result in charges against officers for civil rights violations.