Albuquerque Police: Department Accused Of Excessive Force Now Purchasing 350 AR-15 Assault Rifles

The Albuquerque Police Department has been accused of excessive force including a case in which a homeless man was gunned down by officers, and now the department is planning to buy hundreds of military-style assault rifles.

The department is planning to purchase at least 350 AR-15 assault rifles through a local vendor. The move has drawn criticism from the local American Civil Liberties Union, which has led a nationwide push against the militarization of police departments.

“You’re asking for trouble, in my opinion,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

Albuquerque residents protest police use of excessive force.

An investigative team at KOB Eyewitness News 4 first reported on the Albuquerque Police Department’s plans to buy the assault rifles, which would likely be ordered in quantities of 50.

Earlier this year, officers armed with AR-15 assault rifles gunned down 38-year-old James Boyd, a homeless man who was illegally camping in the desert. In a dramatic standoff caught on video, police fired a flash bang grenade at Boyd, who then appeared confused and unable to hear orders shouted by police. The officers then opened fire, killing Boyd.

“This was something that caught the attention of the world,” said Ralph Arellanes, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ New Mexico chapter and a member of the city’s police oversight task force. “It’s a tremendous injustice. A tremendous tragedy. And I also think there are more cases that (the U.S. Department of Justice) needs to refer for criminal proceedings.”

The shooting led the FBI to open an investigation into the shooting, and prompted the bureau to take the unusual step of publicizing its efforts to assure the public that the matter is being fully investigated.

Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department has been involved in 37 shootings, 23 of which were fatal.

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Local residents have already spoken out against the Albuquerque Police Department, including protests in March that turned violent as demonstrators hurled rocks and spat at officers dressed in riot gear.

Simonson said the latest plans to purchase 350 assault rifles was unusual given the fact that the Department of Justice determined that Albuquerque Police Department officers have a “pattern and practice” of using excessive and deadly force.

“I think it sends a contradictory message to the public, and I think it should raise concerns about how seriously they’re actually taking the DOJ reforms,” he said.

In May, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden told officers they could no longer carry personally owned weapons in the field, including AR-15 assault rifles. APD Union President Stepanie Lopez said there are 320 officers trained to shoot rifles, and these officers had requested that the department purchase rifles to replace the ones they were no longer allowed to use.

[Photos by Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal and Bing]