Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

12-1 Who investigates the Investigators?

MON, 12-01-08

SANTA FE - Who investigates the government when it goes bad? We've had some experience with that. Two state treasurers and a state insurance deputy superintendent have gone to prison for crimes in recent years.
Add to that federal employee Wen Ho Lee a few years ago and people involved in the Albuquerque Metro Court scandal and one can see that our law enforcement agencies seem quite capable of tracking down on public officials who behave badly and bringing them to justice.
But then the question becomes one of who investigates the investigators? Recently citizen complaints have been made against police in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, among others, for inappropriate behavior. But those complaints don't seem to have anywhere to go.
Taking complaints to the police chief, city councilors or the mayor are rebuffed. In Las Cruces, taking complaints to the district attorney has been completely unsuccessful.
So where does one go? The state level seems like the next step. How about the attorney general? But he testified to a legislative committee two weeks ago that his job is not to represent the people of the state, it is to represent the state to keep it out of trouble.
There also is a New Mexico Law Enforcement academy, charged with certifying and decertifying law enforcement officers. That sounds like the solution. But that has been tried and it doesn't work either.
Fred Chilton, from Las Cruces has tried often to get police misbehavior before the Academy Board because its regulations and statutes prohibit it and there is no was to change it other than the Legislature changing the statutes.
But Chilton has sent me a copy of the academy board's own regulation saying, "All persons, other than members of the board or its director, desiring to pace before the board any item of business for the board's consideration shall do so by submitting to the director as early as possible, and no later than eight days in advance a written petition containing... The director must place any item of business requested by a timely petition on the agenda of the next regular meeting..."
I've omitted some of the specifics, but you get the idea. There appears to be an item in the state Law Enforcement Academy's regulations providing for accepting complaints from private citizens if they are presented correctly.
Mr. Chilton and others have gone to great lengths to present their cases correctly and in petition form. But the result is always the same. A letter from Arthur Ortiz, director of the Academy stating that the board does not accept complaints directly from citizens.
Additional letters from Chilton and others, ask Ortiz, Secretary of Public Safety John Denko and Attorney General Gary King to explain the contradiction between the regulation and the official position taken. Each reply is no more than the standard statement that the board does not take complaints from citizens.
I have read and heard the stories of many people who allege police brutality or other gross misconduct. I realize the incidence of such cases is extremely small. I can honestly say that in all the situations in which I have been involved with any member of law enforcement during my 70 years, I have never had a bad experience.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And it seems to be happening more often of late. One reason is the increasing popularity of SWAT teams. They are now used in situations in which they escalate hostilities that may not even have existed.
The other reason is the war on drugs, which among other things, has created snitches who identify wrong addresses for raids and the situation by which drug forfeitures are retained by the arresting agency.
The vast majority of law enforcement officers are good. But the bad ones should be banished and mistakes admitted. The present system merits an investigation and it's obvious no one wants to do it.
I'll be out of the office until Tues, 12/2.

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