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Albuquerque agrees to Justice Department deal and will overhaul its troubled police force

Riot police respond to a protest after Albuquerque police shot and killed two people in March. (Russell Contreras/AP)
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Albuquerque has agreed to overhaul its police department, following a lengthy Justice Department investigation that found systemic problems involving reckless officers and excessive uses of force.

For context, let us rewind seven months. Albuquerque was the site of chaotic, frenzied protests and calmer protests in March over police-involved shootings. This outcry was sparked after police officers shot and killed two men that month, which pushed the number of people shot and killed by Albuquerque police to nearly two dozen over a period of a little more than four years, according to records kept by the Albuquerque Journal.

Not long after these protests, the Justice Department released the results of a 17-month investigation into allegations that the Albuquerque police used excessive force. This investigation found that Albuquerque police “often use deadly force” when it is not needed, “often use unreasonable physical force” and generally operated without any real accountability.

The Justice Department and city officials announced last week an agreement that would reform the city’s police department, revamp how officers use force and improve the way complaints against officers are investigated. The Albuquerque City Council held a special meeting to discuss the settlement on Thursday night and voted 8-0 to approve the deal.

“We are extremely proud of our community and police department for coming together in a time of serious challenges to the city to offer their advice and recommendations on a path forward,” Damon P. Martinez, U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico, said in a statement after the settlement was announced last week. “Reform will not take place overnight and it will take time to heal our community, but we are well on our way.”

This agreement — which specifically notes that Albuquerque “does not concede the accuracy of these allegations” made by the Justice Department, does not admit any liability or acknowledge any improper conduct by police officers — says that the police department will make sure that officers avoid using force as much as possible and promises that uses of force will be thoroughly investigated.

It also says that officers must turn on recording systems whenever using force, which is particularly key to a larger issue nationwide. The idea of body cameras came up quite often during protests in Ferguson, Mo., after Darren Wilson, a police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. A grand jury is on the verge of deciding whether Wilson will be charged, and this decision largely rests on the testimonies of Wilson, various eyewitnesses and forensic evidence — evidence that does not include video footage from Wilson or his car. As a result, many called for an increased use of police body cameras, which spark some privacy concerns but also offer potential answers in cases like that.