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August 27, 2014

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Investigation of Albuquerque PD finds pattern of excessive force

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Albuquerque Journal, Greg Sorber / AP

Mariee McCoy, center, of Albuquerque holds up a sign protesting Albuquerque Police Department officers during a protest that started at First and Central and marched to APD headquarters in Albuquerque on Tuesday, March 25, 2013.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday said institutional reform centered on more training and tools for officers is needed to curb the "patterns of excessive force" that were turned up by a civil investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department.

After more than a year of reviewing hundreds of cases handled by the Police Department, the federal agency found that officers too frequently used deadly force on people "who posed a minimal threat" and used a higher level of force too often on those with mental illness. In many of the cases, that use of force violated constitutional rights.

Acting Assistant Attorney General of DOJ Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels said the investigation was thorough and that it became clear the problems within the Police Department are systemic.

"The reforms we are proposing ... are going to result in the kinds of structures that will over time create a change in the culture," she said. "It starts with commitment from the top."

She acknowledged that changes will not happen overnight.

Community members voiced concerns during Thursday's announcement that recommendations have been made in the past with city leaders failing to take action.

DOJ officials planned to brief Mayor Richard Berry, police Chief Gorden Eden and other officials on the findings Thursday afternoon.

The announcement followed an investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and excessive force. The department has faced criticism over 37 shootings by officers since 2010.

Last week, Berry asked the federal agency to expedite its review and help overhaul the city's police force. His request followed a violent protest last month in response to the shooting death of a homeless man who had threatened to kill officers. The man was gathering his belongings and turning away when officers opened fire, helmet camera video showed.

Until Thursday's announcement, federal officials released few details of the Albuquerque investigation but conducted hundreds of interviews with officials and residents.

Scrutiny of the Albuquerque force is one of 15 investigations of police departments launched during President Barack Obama's first term.

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