In the last four years, Albuquerque police have pulled their guns on people at least 37 times, and killed at least 23 people among them. The shootings added up: Albuquerque has a fatal police shootings rate that’s eight times that of New York City’s. Until two weeks ago, when Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg filed murder charges over a March 2014 fatal police shooting, no police officer had ever been criminally charged.
A new New Yorker article by Rachel Aviv examines the faceless web of power which protects police officers who kill people while on the job, and intimidates and possibly retaliates against those who seek justice or accountability. Aviv also reports on recruitment pressures in Albuquerque which forced the police department to ease up on their hiring standards, and accept those who, Aviv implies, otherwise would not belong on the police force. In the wake of Tamir Rice’s death at the hands of a Cleveland police officer who was rejected from another police department, Aviv’s reporting underscores the point that unleashing questionably qualified police officers into the community can be fatal.
Tucked deep in the story is Aviv’s account of the personal and professional price DA Brandenburg is paying for going after those police officers:
Last October, Kari Brandenburg told a police-union attorney that she was leaning toward filing murder charges against the officers who shot Boyd. Within weeks, Brandenburg found herself the target of an investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department. Her twenty-six-year-old son, who was addicted to heroin, had stolen thousands of dollars of his friends’ belongings, and Brandenburg had offered to reimburse them. In late November, an Albuquerque detective gave the state attorney general an investigative file that he said showed that Brandenburg had bribed and intimidated witnesses. In a recording of a conversation between officers working on the case, a detective with the Criminal Intelligence Unit acknowledged that the evidence against Brandenburg appeared insubstantial. He said, “There might be charges–they’re super-weak–it’s probably not gonna go anywhere, but it’s gonna destroy a career.”
The whole story is an infuriating, but not altogether shocking story, of political pressure and unchecked police power. It comes as the Albuquerque police department embarks on sweeping reforms mandated by the Justice Department.
Read the rest of the New Yorker story.