By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Police in New Mexico’s largest city fatally shot a man they said lunged at officers with a knife early Thursday, marking a record 17 police shootings this year in Albuquerque, the city’s police chief said.
The shooting happened after police received calls Wednesday about a man who had allegedly broke a window at a bank and threatened a person over frustrations about not being able to use his debit card, Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said during a news conference. It would be another 12 hours before officers would run into the man outside the police prison transport center. An officer tried to talk to him, but he fled.
The police chief said the man had been arrested three times over the past three months and that authorities had been working with a crisis intervention unit to get him help. Instead, officers ended up trying to negotiate with him at 2 a.m. along the side of a downtown building.
Medina said the man had a knife and ran toward officers, who opened fire.
“Yesterday’s shooting is just a grim reminder that we need to work with our state legislators, we need to work with our partners in the criminal justice system, we have to find answers,” the chief said. “We have to find answers as to how we can reduce the number of contacts with these individuals.”
He noted that a review of shootings by Albuquerque police between 2018 and 2022 identified three common circumstances: when officers are attempting to apprehend violent suspects; when individuals are experiencing some kind of mental health episode; and when people with little criminal history are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and make bad decisions.
The data shared by the Albuquerque Police Department showed there have been 54 police shootings dating back to 2018. Of the cases reviewed, 85% involved people who were armed with a gun or a weapon that appeared to be a firearm.
Authorities also found that about 55% of the cases involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while there were only two cases in which intoxication did not play a role. Without toxicology tests, it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the remainder of the cases.
Statewide, authorities said the number of shootings in which officers opened fire stands at 50 for the year.
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said the figures indicate it’s not just a problem in Albuquerque — where authorities and elected officials have been grappling with record-high homicides and violent crime.
Albuquerque came into the spotlight nearly a decade ago as community members and activists began protesting a pattern of excessive force by officers, resulting in an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. Federal officials harshly criticized the police force but reached an agreement with the city to improve training and dismantle troubled units.
The latest report by a federal monitor indicated continued progress by the city in meeting the mandates.
A coalition of community organizations and individuals pushing for more changes still has concerns, mostly recently demanding that the Albuquerque Police Department release more details about a shooting last weekend.
Barron Jones, a member of APD Forward and a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said earlier this week that transparency is needed to better understand what, if anything, could be done to prevent shooting deaths at the hands of officers.
The recent cases underscore the need for a statewide use-of-force policy that includes clear, consistent protocols for deescalating interactions with the public “to avoid these kinds of tragic incidents,” he said.
Medina said the department continues to work on policy changes and training with the goal of reducing the likelihood of using deadly force. While much of the focus has been on deescalating situations, he said disengagement needs to be part of the equation.
The data released by the department shows that over the last five years, six officers underwent additional training as a result of shooting someone; five letters of reprimand were issued; three verbal reprimands were given; two officers were fired; and one was suspended.