New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Attorney General's Office is the only DA's office in the state to regularly use special prosecutors to review officer-related shootings, and officers say that the system is proving its worth.
“It’s easier to be independent,” special prosecutor Michael Cox told the Albuquerque Journal last week. “I make a finding on somebody, I may not say what they want, but I don’t have to worry if the police chief is mad at me. It doesn’t make any difference to me.”
When Raul Torrez was elected Attorney General in 2017, he hired special prosecutors to investigate officer-related shootings in the Albuquerque metro area. This was a change from the former practice of having prosecutors in the DA’s office do the investigations.
Specially hired independent investigators are touting the advantages of being their own separate entity.
Cox said the ability to maintain an independent distance from the influence of a police chief is not the only advantage of the new system. It has also worked down a backlog of cases.
In particular, he said, a four-year backlog of cases Cox and other investigators inherited from a previous administration. The number of cases had been reduced to 21 still under review by December because the system operates more efficiently.
All officer-related shootings are reviewed by a Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF) including the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico State Police. MATF investigations are conducted separate from Internal Affairs investigations, which are more concerned if an officer violated policy and procedures.
According to the Albuquerque Journal report, there were eight shootings by Albuquerque police in 2019. The incidents resulted in three investigations turned over to the DA’s office, while three of four shootings by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office resulted in investigations.
Cox said the major difference between agencies is the use of lapel cameras. Albuquerque police use them where Sheriff’s Officers use audio-recording devices.
“It takes more time but when you get a good result it can be wonderful,” Cox said, referring to the cameras. “But it can sometimes take a long time to find that.”
City and county officers agree that the amount of time it takes to investigate shootings by law enforcement depends on whether or not a shooting is fatal, which necessitates autopsy and toxicology reports to be completed.