State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas is asking the Governor’s Office to support legislation during the upcoming special session that would strike language automatically inserted into police contracts dealing with investigations into police misconduct.
State law requires certain parameters when it comes to probing into police misconduct cases. Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat and former Bernalillo County assistant district attorney, argues the law shields New Mexico police from accountability as a matter of routine procedure.
Maestas’ bill tweaks the parameters around such investigations and erases “all of the anti-accountability measures in state law,” he said.
“This doesn’t deplete the power of police unions. They can still use political clout and influence. But language in police contracts and particular state contracts shouldn’t hide complaints against police offers and it shouldn’t shield employee misconduct,” Maestas said.
For example, the law limits interrogations in police misconduct cases to two two-hour sessions within a 24-hour time period. Interrogations can only take place when the officer is on duty; there can be no more than two interrogators; officers have access to recorded interrogation within 15 days; officers have access to the name of the person who filed the complaint against them, the nature of the complaint and the names of the officers interrogating them before the interrogation begins.
The law also prevents negative comments about officers from being entered into their personnel file without consent — something that can make it easier for problem police officers to find work at other departments.
The police misconduct proposal comes after thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in Albuquerque and hundreds in Santa Fe to voice their opposition to police brutality and a lack of accountability or repercussion when police kill unarmed black men after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Outside of New Mexico, cities across the nation — from Los Angeles to New York — erupted in protests over police brutality and systemic racism in police ranks following Floyd’s death.
Rather than more body cameras and oversight boards, many Black Lives Matter protesters have called for “defunding the police,” arguing that such reforms in the past have done little to stem the violence against black Americans.
Local governments have the power to slash police budgets without negotiation with police unions, Bloomberg News reported Friday.
State lawmakers also could cut so-called capital outlay projects for police departments across New Mexico, which can fund things such as computers, telecommunications, building upgrades and vehicles for law enforcement officers.
“Defunding the police” has become part of the national conversation.
But Maestas said “the slogan does a disservice to the conversation.” When asked if he would consider opposing such capital outlay projects for police departments in the January session, Maestas said that “it’s a conversation that’s definitely needed,” but he added he’s “a firm believer of adequately funding the criminal justice system.”
Eric Padilla, president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s New Mexico Lodge, did not respond to an inquiry Friday from The New Mexican regarding the proposed legislation.
The New Mexico Association of Chiefs of Police President Steve Hebbe, the chief of police in Farmington, also did not return a phone call Friday.
Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in an email that Gov. Michelle Lujuan Grisham “is open to proposals that address the timely questions of excessive force in policing and of systemic racism and injustice.”
But Sackett said the proposal would need “broad support across the Legislature” and “broader reform proposals” are more likely between now and the regular 60-day legislative session in January.
“The governor has been in constant communication in recent days with legislative leadership about potential agenda items to be taken up in the forthcoming special session, but the primary focus of the special session is to expeditiously address the economic issues brought on by the pandemic,” Sackett said.