Who watches the watchers?

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King, academy haven’t gone after sketchy officers

By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — The state Law Enforcement Academy is still having big problems.
This time it involves police, who have been fired, moving to similar jobs in other communities because the Academy never files statewide charges against the officer.
The Albuquerque Journal in a copyrighted story has covered the present situation well. The following is a review of what happened three years ago when the academy was called on the carpet. Both times the problem apparently was disinterest by Attorney General Gary King.
In November 2009, an interim legislative committee heard evidence that police brutality charges never get prosecuted by the state. Testimony indicated that complaints to local officials seldom result in any action. Albuquerque has some police oversight mechanisms but no one present recommended those mechanisms as being models others should employ.
Generally, there appeared to be agreement that law enforcement misconduct should be handled at the local level but that most attempts to do so are not working because local officials tend to support each other.
Likewise, internal affairs investigations by police departments seldom result in any penalties against officers. According to testimony internal reviews protect law enforcement from the public and there is no mechanism for protecting the public from police.
The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy trains and certifies law enforcement officers and can decertify them after receiving and investigating complaints. Typically, it is a cumbersome, slow-moving process that doesn’t result in many decertifications.
Arthur Ortiz, director of the academy, testified to the committee that he was speeding up the process but that failure of local sheriffs and police chiefs to report misconduct is his biggest problem.
Paul Borunda, a citizen from Las Cruces, presented the panel with numerous instances of police misconduct that have gone unpunished in Las Cruces because of interlocking relationships among local law enforcement officials. He recounted his efforts to find anyone at the local or state level to take any responsibility for overseeing law enforcement misconduct.
Borunda also spoke of efforts to get Attorney General Gary King involved in law enforcement misconduct but his reply was that his job is to protect the state and not the people.
King then told the committee that his client is the state and not its people. He said misconduct charges should be taken to local elected officials and if they aren’t handled to the satisfaction of the public, they can be turned out of office at the next election.
Committee Chairman, Sen. Cisco McSorely, of Albuquerque, complimented Borunda on his tireless efforts doing what no local or state agencies do.
McSorely concluded that since law enforcement oversight is not working at the local level, an entity should be created at the state level to oversee, investigate and punish law enforcement misconduct. He asked King to compute the costs of establishing a state review board.
It seems as though our country is missing something if we can’t protect our citizens from those few cases when law enforcement officers get out of hand. Our founding fathers knew the horrors of living in police states. They wanted to protect the public against such a system.
They provided us with a judicial system to insure that protection but that is a very cumbersome and expensive process. And if local law enforcement violates a person’s civil rights, the answer can’t be found in local or state courts. Only federal courts handle such charges.
It seems to me I have heard attorney general candidates run for office as being the people’s lawyer. It sounds good in campaign material. But it’s not the truth. The attorney general defends the state against its people.
Have you noticed that when governors take an action requiring legal defense, they hire their own lawyers? Sometimes the attorney general is on the other side of the case.
So who is representing the people? Both the governor and the attorney general would say they are.
But are they really?

Jay Miller