Committee clears police training bill

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Legislation would allow specialized guidelines for police interacting with people suffering from psychological issues

By Carol A. Clark

An escalating issue facing law enforcement in Los Alamos and communities across the state has prompted the introduction of a bill addressing how law enforcement should handle citizens exhibiting signs of mental impairment.


Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque and Sen. David Ulibarri, D-Grants introduced the bill, which would establish training guidelines for police officers involving specialized handling of situations where people are mentally impaired.

HB 93 unanimously cleared its final committee Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee.

“I believe the best way to minimize tragedies involving law enforcement and mentally impaired people is to provide law enforcement and first responders with extra education and tools so they can quickly analyze the situation and adapt their reactions so they can de-escalate situations safely,” Sandoval said.

The bill would create a new section in the law enforcement training act that requires certain persons working in law enforcement to receive periodic in-service trainings on how to interact with mentally impaired persons.

“The idea of this type of training is excellent,” said Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy this morning. “While not knowing the full content of the bill, I certainly support any training that would increase the safety of our community and of our officers as they carry out their daily duties.”                                            

Last month, local police officers endured a 19-hour standoff with Bathtub Row resident Richard Morse.

Morse had refused to comply with a court ordered psychological evaluation, locked himself in his home and reportedly threatened to shoot police if they tried to enter. The LAPD received praise from the community for exercising patience and ending the ordeal peacefully. After Morse was taken into custody, police discovered three firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside his home.

“Mr. Morse has had a preliminary evaluation and is currently back at the Los Alamos County Detention Center awaiting a more in-depth follow up evaluation,” Capt. Randy Foster said.

The creation of HB 93 is the result of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, and the efforts of the family of Kenneth Ellis III, an Iraq War veteran battling post-traumatic stress disorder who was killed during an altercation with Albuquerque police.

“There were more than 13 officer-involved shootings in New Mexico last year and nine were fatal,” said Jonelle Ellis, sister of Ellis III. “So far, family members of six of those fatalities have filed wrongful death suits because their family member had a mental impairment. It is incredibly painful to live without someone you love – my hope is this legislation will keep more families and officers from living with that pain.”

This bill would provide law enforcement officials 40 hours of specialized training to develop skills to effectively interact with people suffering from mental impairments including post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and autism.

“My son went into the armed forces as an infantryman, knowing full well that he might lose his life fighting in Iraq,” said Ellis’ father Kenneth Ellis II. “The fact that he lost his life on American soil instead is just unfathomable. The system failed him in every way after he returned. At least if the officer had been trained to respond to the situation differently, things would be different.”

Sandoval said he hopes the proposed legislation will prevent future tragic occurrences involving police and mentally impaired people.

HB 93 moves next to the House of Representatives for a vote.