As part of our ongoing coverage of policing and transparency in the criminal justice system, we reported on “The Bad Cop List,” where attorneys often keep secret lists of officers who have been determined to be untrustworthy because of misconduct or internal affairs investigations.
This practice of keeping these lists internally is an informal way for both prosecutors and defense attorneys to keep track of officers who have credibility issues and are witnesses or investigators on a case. It’s what is known as a Giglio or Brady list, and the Supreme Court established in Brady v Maryland and United States v Giglio that prosecutors have a duty to disclose when an officer has a known issue of misconduct in their personnel records that could affect their credibility. These lists of officers’ names are not made public, because they’re not required to be. This is why it makes what Bernallillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who is also running for Attorney General, has done all the more unique.
“When I first came into office, we really didn’t keep track of officers who had Giglio disclosures filed against them,” Torrez said. “It was more of an internal email system, from one attorney to another. It was fractured and inconsistent. We were not using our office in the most effective way in improving police accountability.”
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is the first in the country to implement a standardized system that publicly lists the names of officers with Giglio disclosures. It’s more a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. The DA’s office sends a questionnaire to every officer listed on a case that comes through their office. Torrez says that’s anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 felony cases per year. “It took a lot of resources to make this happen. We had to completely revamp our reporting systems and work with the police agencies to track this information,” he said.
So if the Bernalillo County DA’s Office has been successful in implementing a system for reporting problematic officers, shouldn’t all prosecutors in New Mexico do the same? On May 19 district attorneys from around New Mexico met to discuss this very issue. At the heart of the conference was creating internal processes that communicate when an officer has a Giglio disclosure filed in court. Roxanne Garcia-McElmell worked in the Doña Ana County District Attorney’s Office and attended the training. “What you’re going to see is a more standardized way of how we keep track of Giglio disclosures,” she said. “We’ve never had that before, and this is a whole new way of thinking for us. I don’t think you’ll see us publicly listing officer’s names any time soon, though.”
So who is the centralized agency that oversees reports of officer misconduct and tracks Giglio disclosures? That question is a bit nebulous. The Attorney General’s Office doesn’t require police agencies to report officer misconduct. Although the Law Enforcement Academy Board does receive those reports, as KOB reported, they are often understaffed and aren’t able to keep up with the number of reports. This also means that officers with credibility issues can move from agency to agency with no real oversight.
Torrez says he doesn’t believe it’s fair to ask smaller DA offices with few resources and money to implement what his office did. “I had to work really hard to get that money, and we are the largest office in the state. I think, at this point, the most important thing for smaller agencies is to create an internal standardized reporting system,” he said. “What really needs to happen is for legislators to recognize how important this is to police reform and allocate resources. What we’re all looking for is ways to improve accountability but most importantly to improve public trust in the criminal justice system.”