Las Cruces needs a civilian police oversight board
The tragic shooting of Amelia Baca is the exclamation point for Las Cruces’ need for a civilian police oversight board.
Who are you? So far the NAACP, LULAC, psychiatrist Dr. Ernest Flores and many others. Many have personally seen non-fatal incidents as appalling as the Baca shooting. Pattie Hartman told the Las Cruces City Council Monday that these situations are “social justice” issues, adding, “I have warned as much as possible not to call 9-1-1. Amelia Baca was not an isolated incident.
Based on the video, it’s hard to see the shooter remaining a cop. Baca holds knives – but at his side, not threatening. She is in a doorway. He knows that she suffers from mental disorders. His daughter and granddaughter keep reminding him. He repeatedly shouts, in English, “Drop the (expletive) knives!” In his defense, (a) he doesn’t know if she’s a threat to anyone else inside (or hurt anyone), (b) if she moved suddenly, he could get stabbed, and (c) she’s closer to him than the wide-angle lapel video might suggest. But he got so close.
Yelling is not the way to deal with someone in a mental health crisis. He does not ask his family members if anyone is inside. He doesn’t try to speak reassuringly or check if she understands English. He could do it, while watching her closely and holding his weapon. He supposedly had many hours of training. There are a dozen better approaches he should have learned in the first hour.
If this was an isolated incident… but it’s not. How many responsible, respected and knowledgeable citizens have to tell the city council that they have seen several such incidents? How many citizens must die?
Yes, we have a contract with an agency elsewhere. Dr. Earl Nissen reviewed their annual report. Basically, they summarized several complaints and how the LCPD resolved them. They suggested that “de-escalation training” is more than a flyer. How many citizen complainers have they phoned and asked questions? None. A key city employee pointed out that “they can only verify what is submitted to them”. The LCDD controls this. Nissen, 90, is so worried that he is driven to Albuquerque every month to attend meetings of their civilian board of supervisors. Police officers answer questions directly, in public, and counsel can request documents.
A local council can investigate immediately. By contacting complainants (or hearing from them in meetings), he can hear local accounts directly, respond personally, and be seen by the public to do so, while keeping sensitive personal information confidential. As Nissen overheard an Albuquerque resident say in a meeting, “At least we now know who to contact. We have a communication channel with the police.
I work with police. Many are good people who really care about the public. It seems that some are not. Or being too excited under pressure. Overall, the case now demands action, and the most constructive action available is a supervisory board that can help resolve complaints, improve training, facilitate communications, ensure bad apples are better formed or discarded, dispel misunderstandings and help build trust between officers and citizens. Members should neither believe everything officers say nor be prejudiced against them. (Paying the police more might also help.)
In many cities, these councils have brought great improvements. For a small fraction of what Las Cruces (we) will pay Sam Bregman and the Bacas.
We all need to stop viewing citizens with mental health issues as ‘others’. Amelia Baca was more than her last moments.
Las Cruces resident Peter Goodman writes, takes pictures and occasionally practices law. His blog at http://soledadcanyon.blogspot.com/ has more information on this column.
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