South on the not-too-far-away border, U.S. government uniformed personnel are using false arrests, false testimony (testilies), and abusive and inhuman treatment to deal with refugees trying to get out of the fire in Central America to seek shelter in the frying pan in the United States. Worsening the problem, internal investigations give cover to systematic misconduct. Such police-state misconduct and investigative dishonesty typify the metastasizing immorality of the Trump administration. Unfortunately, similar conduct, though on a smaller scale, occurs in Las Cruces. My previous blog discussed misconduct by investigating police officers; my present one discusses investigations by Internal Affairs (IA) division. Like Big Brother, little brother has politically purposeful and self-protective policies and practices to deter or discredit complaints.
If citizens make anonymous complaints about other citizens, by policy, police officers investigate them. The assumption is that all such complaints are valid, and all accused are guilty until proven innocent. Thus, hostile neighbors or other residents can make police officers agents of harassment, and the police readily accept this role.
By contrast, if citizens make anonymous complaints about officers, by policy, the police do not investigate them. If citizens disclose their identity, they must choose between informal complaints to the officers’ supervisors or formal complaints to Internal Affairs (IA) and ultimately to the Chief of Police. The result of either choice is the same: little, if any, action taken. If citizens choose to file formal complaints, they must sign an IA statement which not only warns against penalties for false reporting, but also advises that polygraph examinations may be required. Accused police officers are, I assume, rarely similarly warned or advised, because IA assumes that police officers tell the truth. This double standard reflects “blue privilege.”
IA’s official purpose is to handle complaints against police officers. Its officers’ job is to investigate and, for cause, charge officers with offenses. They are regarded with suspicion by their fellow officers. If they do their job, they experience resentment and hostility from their fellow officers for violating the code of silence. If they do not do their job, they try to exonerate accused officers, often by using unethical means to discredit accusers. One ploy: call complainants, conduct preliminary interviews, ask leading questions, all while recording the call without notifying the complainant. IA Officer Carmen Lazarin made such a call to me on 5 August. After her first question, I asked whether the call was being recorded; when she said that it was, I labeled her conduct “unethical” and hung up; she called back and apologized; we continued with a recorded interview. The practice of not disclosing the recording, while legal, is unethical and is admitted to be unethical, yet IA officers practice it because they, the most immune of those immune from discipline, get desired results.
Despite IA investigations establishing the facts and the law, the LCPD still exonerates officers. Under the former Chief of Police, the late Jaime Montoya, I reported a police car K-9 driving though the then new center of town on Main Street, not at the posted 15 mph, but at 30 mph. My observation was not unique. Almost everyone has noticed that police cars, using no lights or sirens, often exceed the speed limits. Almost everyone believes that the officers know that complaints will be ignored or dismissed, or that investigations will conclude with no action taken.
My email to Chief Montoya detailed place, date, time, speed, and circumstances. He sent it to IA, which thought he meant it for the circular file until he corrected its mistake. After the investigation, which disputed neither the facts nor the law, he wrote that the officer’s driving speed was “justified.” When I asked what justified it, he provided a list of about ten possible reasons. I responded that the list provided no justification, and requested to know the reason. I got no reply—not only insulting me, but also persuading me that there was no justification. Even when nothing challenges the complaint, IA or the Chief of Police will exonerate the officer without reason.
Today, Chief Montoya’s successor Chief of Police Chief Patrick Gallagher. For many years the IA bureau division commander in New York City, he is highly experienced in IA policies and practices. Las Cruces IA policies and practices, including those privileging and protecting police officers, have not likely escaped his notice or endorsement. For many reasons, he is unlikely to initiate necessary reforms. Having seen the success of the “Garza Gang” and anti-“militarist,” anti-veteran City Councilor Greg Smith in undermining outsider change-agent, former City Manager Stuart Ed, he knows that he, another outsider, could face job-threatening opposition to real reforms from second- and third-tier “old” Las Cruces police officers. He likely suspects that, if he developed such reforms, he would face not only resentment at their threat to “blue privilege,” but also resistance in the form of an epidemic of “blue flu.” He knows that meaningful reforms would require a major share of resources to retrain current personnel. So he will work to look busy on the job by tinkering with the status quo but not doing more as not worth the effort, expense, or personal risk.
Which means, of course, that the police department is really under no one’s control when it comes to customary policies and practices which enable aggressive and dishonest conduct disrespectful of or harmful to citizens. Police officers (claim to) want and need the trust and respect of citizens but feel no need to reciprocate. This lack of reciprocity manifests itself in police officer actions which every day speak louder than words, and in some languages to some people more than others.
Unless Las Cruceans want the “border” to the south to creep north, they need to urge that their elected representatives in City Council take action in two ways. One, it should conduct regular and vigorous oversight, with requirements for public input and Council reporting. To this end, citizens should copy complaints to the LCPD to their Councilor. Two, it should create a civilian review board to investigate and report on police conduct and, in that work, to compel testimony from uniformed officers of all ranks. Without these means of accountability and transparency, continued and possibly augmented police abuses in this city will become a more dangerous part of its future.