The Albuquerque (New Mexico) Police Department has ordered a cache of high-powered rifles despite reprimands from the US Department of Justice, as well as widespread community protests, over the department’s recent record of excessive force.
Albuquerque police have called on a local vendor to supply 350 AR-15 rifles, according to KOB-TV, which cost approximately $1,000 each. The contract calls for the rifles to arrive over the next two years. Subsequent quantities of 50 rifles are part of the deal, if the department deems them necessary.
An AR-15 was used to kill James Boyd, a homeless man who was gunned down by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) in March. APD approached Boyd because he was camping in a mountain area outside the city.
Video footage of the shooting quickly went viral, inciting mass demonstrations in the city and pleas with police to institute training programs that would better prepare officers for confronting the mentally ill.
The US Department of Justice recently released the findings of a 16-month review into the APD, stating that the department’s use of excessive force had caused a number of unjustified fatal shootings by officers in recent years. The DOJ recommended a “systematic change.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels addressed Albuquerque Mayor Richard Barry in a 46-page letter, which discussed the circumstances around 20 fatal shootings by the APD between 2009 and 2013. Federal officials determined that in the majority of those cases where police killed citizens, the amount of force was unnecessary because the individual killed did present an immediate threat to anyone around them.
“We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies – including insufficient oversight, inadequate training and ineffective policies – contributed to the use of unreasonable force,” the letter said, as quoted by the Albuquerque Journal.
APD Chief Gorden Eden said in May that officers would no longer be allowed to carry their personally-owned weapons, including AR-15s, while on duty. The DOJ review found that APD officers would acquire expensive weapons, considering them “status symbols.”
"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," said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, of the APD’s new AR-15 order.
The national ACLU recently released a report that found local police departments across the US are are increasingly more militarized, assuming a war-like stance in dealings with citizens and in using high-powered equipment previously reserved for the battlefield.
APD Union President Stephanie Lopez said around 320 officers have paid for training to shoot rifles, and that there is a need
“to have these weapons on the street and within the department," she said.
"I don't think it's militarizing the department," she added.
Lopez said an October chase for a shooting suspect, who targeted Albuquerque officers using an assault rifle, showed that more than standard handguns are needed by police.
"They were ineffective," she said, in countering the suspect’s more-powerful weapon.
Chief Eden only responded to KOB’s request for comment with a statement given by a spokesperson.
"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."