Three local law enforcement agencies given profiling policy grades

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Local law enforcement agencies don't necessarily agree with the low marks they received in a study that evaluated how well they follow a law that bans biased-based policing.

The study, released July 19, was conducted by Aimee Villarreal, research fellow at the University of California at Santa Cruz in collaboration with Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a New Mexico immigrant-based civil rights organization, and the New Mexico State Conference NAACP. Somos Un Pueblo Unido paid for the study to be published.

Villarreal looked at three Valencia County law enforcement agencies ― the Bosque Farms Police Department, Los Lunas Police Department and the Valencia County Sheriff's Office, and determined letter grades for the level of compliance with the Prohibition of Profiling Practices Act.

According to the study, New Mexico law enforcement agencies were expected to be in compliance with the act by 2010, which prohibits racial profiling and other forms of biased-based policing. The study randomly selected 30 New Mexico law enforcement agencies to participate.

The statute says law enforcement officers must not rely on race, ethnicity, color, gender or religion to select a person to be investigated for criminal activity.

Villarreal used nine categories to determine the grades for each department that ranged from whether each agency had a biased-based policy to whether or not disciplinary procedures are in place for officers who could be involved in a profiling incident.

On the study's report card, the Bosque Farms Police Department received a D, the Los Lunas Police Department received a D and the Valencia County Sheriff's Office got a C in regards to its biased-based policing policy.

"People want to feel like they truly have a process," said Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

Diaz said proper policies build trust between community members and law enforcement.

Bosque Farms Police Chief Greg Jones said he disagrees with the letter grade assigned to his department.

The report card said the department received the below-passing grade because department officials refused to provide a policy after several attempts. It also said that there wasn't a system in place to send complaints to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office without personal information being disclosed, according to the study.

"I'm rather confused as to why we haven't been contacted by the people requesting the policy on biased-based (policing)," Jones said. "No one asked us for a biased-based policy."

Jones said the department's policy is online and is similar to the 2009 state statute. He said complaint forms are available at both the village of Bosque Farms and the town of Peralta offices.

He said his department sends out a letter to the person or persons who made the initial complaint.

The Bosque Farms Police Department, according to Jones, follows the statute by allowing anyone to make a complaint regardless of their race or ethnicity.

"We allow all citizens to make complaints against police personnel," Jones said.

He said his department provides training for law enforcement officers, and said his 13 certified officers read and understood the policy.

The department is currently in the process of applying to a statewide recognition program, similar to an accreditation, and is currently revamping its standard operating procedures.

"You have to have policies," Jones said. "Policies are similar to guidelines. It's similar to how you raise children. You have to set the basic ground rules so that there is no confusion."

The Los Lunas Police Department lost points because Villarreal determined there was no published information about the polices and procedures in place to eliminate profiling practices.

Los Lunas Police Lt. Naithan Gurule said although that information is not on the website, residents can access an online complaint form via the village of Los Lunas website.

He said he is unsure if the department was docked points because the agency doesn't have a specific complaint for profiling. Instead, the complaint form is for all complaints.

He said the department must keep track and log complaints as part of its annual report and to maintain its accreditation status with the state.

"(The evaluation) is not a true depiction of the service we provide," Gurule said.

The department received credit for allowing residents to make anonymous complaints, and Gurule said the department should have received credit with regards to a department policy that protects certain classes that are covered in the law.

"Our (policy) talks about everybody," Gurule said. "Everyone is protected."

The Valencia County Sheriff's Office was the lone local agency to have a compliant policy, according to the study's findings.

Valencia County Sheriff's Capt. Gary Hall said the agency has had a similar type of policy in place under the previous and current administrations.

The department lost points on whether the agency publishes information on its website about the policies and procedures that are in place to eliminate profiling practices.

He said he has not seen a racial profiling case against an officer during his 18-year career with the Valencia County Sheriff's Office. He said he "doesn't quite understand" why the sheriff's office received its particular rating.

"Here in Valencia County, these types of complaints have not been an (issue)," Hall said.

Hall said deputies are trained to look at the suspects based on the situations that they are accused of rather than the color of their skin.

"We look at the crime and the situation," Hall said. "We don't look at race and gender."

Other departments, such as the Ruidoso Police Department, have also disputed the study's findings.

According to the Ruidoso News, officials said their department deserved an A instead of its C letter grade.

Still, the executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido says good policies lead to a better relationship with residents in their respective communities.

Diaz said her group recently met with the New Mexico Attorney General, whose office said they would work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that they have the proper information that falls in line with the 2009 law.

She said residents are more likely to interact and be cooperative with their local police agencies if there are proper policies in place.

"(Good policies) help the community move forward," Diaz said.

Only two agencies met all of the criteria for full compliance, Santa Fe Police Department and Socorro County Sheriff's Department, receiving an A grade.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.