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‘We can’t disband the police department’ – but Las Cruces looks at transparency, reform

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The Las Cruces City Council met Monday night for a passionate, three-hour discussion on global and local calls for police reform following cases of police brutality.

"I can tell you as a black woman in America, when I get stopped by an officer, I am terrified," admitted Dr. Bobbie Greene, the president of the Doña Ana County NAACP.

"Obviously, we can't disband the police department," said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima. "But it is important for us to look and see what people mean when they are making this demand."

"We have absolutely over-relied on law enforcement in the criminal justice system to address the needs of our people," said Councilwoman Johana Bencomo, who represents district four.

The topic of the meeting was discussing the "8 Can't Wait" campaign, which calls for immediate changes to police departments. The campaign includes the ban of vascular neck restraints, which killed a Las Cruces resident in February and led to the officer charged with involuntary manslaughter.

"There is a moratorium on (vascular neck restraints) being used in the Las Cruces Police Department," said Lt. Shane Brisco, the head of LPCD's crisis intervention unit. "We don't teach it anymore. It's not a part of the curriculum."

"We are not perfect," said Deputy Chief Miguel Dominguez. We make mistakes. We'll own up to our mistakes, but ultimately we love Las Cruces. We are a tight community."

Lt. Brisco also discussed at length the department's efforts to require de-escalation, requiring warnings while shooting and the other points of the campaign.

"It isn't always reasonable for an officer to answer a warning before a deadly threat," Lt. Brisco said. "For example, if somebody's pointing a gun right at them, an officer's not required to say, 'Put the gun down or I'll be forced to shoot."

Las Cruces Police Chief Patrick Gallagher did not attend the meeting "on the advice of counsel" because the city has pending litigation, said interim city manager David Maestas.

The mayor read several dozen emails with public comment at the beginning of the meeting. Some residents called to defund the Las Cruces Police Department and others called for greater support of law enforcement in Las Cruces.

"Do I believe that defunding your organization is the right answer?" asked Councilwoman Kasandra Gandara, who represents district one. "No. I do not. Do I think there needs to be more transparency? Absolutely."

Article Topic Follows: New Mexico

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Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is a former ABC-7 New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and weekend evening newscast anchor.


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