Another two-year training cycle has passed, the Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) has an interim director and the Law Enforcement Academy Board (LEAB) has new members. But it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Every officer in the state is required to complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years. The head of each agency, police chief, sheriff or otherwise is responsible for reporting the completed training every two years to the LEA. The training, by and large, is set by the legislature and can be found in the laws governing police. But for years the LEAB has noted that officers throughout the state have either failed to complete the training or their leaders have failed to report it to the LEA. According to Michael K. McHenry, author of the Criminal Justice Institute's white paper, "A Need for Change: The Importance of Continued Training and Education for Modern Day Police Officers," applied training is imperative when officers deal with the "dark side" of humankind and "must practice situational awareness consistently throughout the day."
The duty to oversee and enforce training requirements may soon be something that the LEA spends more time focusing on. That's because of a lawsuit filed in April by the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Ives & Flores, P.A. against the LEA for allegedly failing in its duty to train and supervise officers throughout the state.
It's unclear what impact, if any, the filing has had on the actions of the LEA, or what the final outcome of the civil suit will mean for police oversight.
As previously reported by The Paper., New Mexicans just have to trust that the law enforcement officers that stop them on highways or respond to their 911 calls are properly trained.
Only a Third of Officers Received Training
In 2010, the LEAB contracted outside service providers, paying them roughly $30,000 to conduct an audit of officer training during the 2008-2009 training cycle. The audit reviewed both compliances with biennium training and firearms qualifications scores. Those results were discussed during a board meeting and presented by Mark Shea, who was then the advanced training bureau chief for the LEA. (Shea later went on to serve as the Department of Public Safety Cabinet Secretary, but left the position in 2020.)
“You’ll see that out of 36 agencies in the State of New Mexico that were audited in this first round, we only had one-third compliance,” Shea told the LEAB at the December 2010 LEAB meeting. “I think by and large the numbers are alarming, that we show a 30 percent compliance rate.”
During the past couple of years, the LEA and LEAB have discussed biennium training multiple times, but still, the reports that trickled in from various agencies in the state do not come close to representing all of the officers on the street.
Some agencies turned in the biennium training reports on time or early despite challenges, such as the Anthony Police Department, a 15-member police force. Chief Vanessa Ordonez submitted reports for that agency in December 2021, months before the March deadline, and prior to her extended military leave from the agency. Smaller departments such as Lake Arthur and large ones like Albuquerque Police Department and New Mexico State Police also reported on time and listed any officers that failed to meet the training requirements along with remediation plans for bringing officers into compliance with the training requirements.
In total, as of the March 1, 2022 deadline, 80 of the state’s law enforcement agencies had submitted their training reports according to records received from the LEA via the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA.) Those agencies, listed here, represent training reports for 3,897 of the state’s nearly 6,000 police officers.
Not all of the 3,897 officers have completed their training for the 2020-2021 training period, but the reasons for the discrepancy were clearly listed on the forms filed with the LEA. Various reasons accounted for the lack of training including military leave and deployments, and even long-haul COVID-19 and other medical leave reasons. For most officers, a plan to bring them into training compliance included having officers attend training as soon as they return to duty.
So Are the Police Trained or Not?
Fifth Judicial District Diana Luce, one of many agency leaders that should have filed the training report for biennium training but did not, said that the three certified law enforcement officers that work for her did complete their training.
“Not reporting is not the same as not completing the training,” she said.
Luce also said that as far as she knows, she hasn’t received any notice from the LEA that the required report was not filed. Her office is reviewing the March shooting of David Aguilera who was unarmed and killed by Chaves County deputies and reported on exclusively by The Paper.
The Chaves County Sheriff's Office is one of the many agencies that did not report biennium training or firearms testing to the LEA.
Roswell Police Department, the agency that investigated the shooting, also missed the deadline to file the report, but a spokesperson for that agency said the report had since been filed and the agency’s nearly 90 officers had all completed their training.
RPD took it upon themselves to complete the forms and submit them to the LEA, albeit slightly behind schedule. The RPD spokesperson said that there had been no communication from the LEA regarding the training reports and that communications from the LEA had been lacking in the past.
Española Police Department forms were not returned in the request made to the LEA via a public records request, but EPD Deputy Chief Jack Jones said not only had that agencies officers completed the training, but that the reports had been hand-delivered directly to the LEA prior to the March 1, 2022, deadline.
The Academy Is "Working on Getting Answers"
Although The Paper. reached out to the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the LEA regarding the number of reports received, the cabinet department was unable to respond to questions regarding the biennium training reports before deadline.
“We received your questions, and we are working to respond, but we will not meet your deadline,” DPS Spokesperson Herman Lovato wrote in an email response last week. “We just completed a graduation and are moving on to the annual law enforcement memorial service which is hosted by DPS.”
LEAB member Rick Tedrow, one of the two 11th Judicial District Attorneys, said although he employs law enforcement officers, there was no need for his agency to submit a report. That’s because he said his agents don’t work as police officers, and instead his office utilizes the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for any law enforcement type investigations or other certified police officer actions.
Still, Tedrow said that training and reporting are important.
“I think it always matters,” Tedrow said. “Everybody's training always matters. It's just like about every profession, whether you're a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, you know, everybody's got those continuing education requirements.”
Tedrow said that if he fails to report his continuing education to the state bar, there are immediate consequences. “If I don't file my annual and bar dues by February, I'm getting a letter that says I'm suspended,” Tedrow said.
The Paper. asked Tedrow if he was aware that there is no such letter or suspension for officers who fail to complete or report their training to the LEA.
“No, I did not know,” Tedrow said.
Tedrow said he’s served on the LEAB for three or four years but that, in his time there, not much of the focus has been on biennium training.
“You know, as a board member, I'll say, what I've noticed over several years is it seems the board has been tasked with dealing with discipline,” Tedrow said. “Maybe annually, we get a report on how training is going to change based off of the legislature and what they've asked, and, and whatever statutes they've put out there for training, and then, majority of what the board does is it seems it deals with the disciplinary issues.”
What's Next for the Academy?
The LEA is currently being run by DPS Deputy Cabinet Secretary Ben Baker, who previously worked in Attorney General Hector Balderas’s investigations department.
The Paper. previously reported about difficulties receiving public records since Baker took the helm. That issue still hasn’t been resolved and the process is ongoing. At this time, it’s hard to know whether or not there will be any changes to training oversight during Baker’s interim tenure. His April report to the LEAB seemed focused on the 2022-2023 biennium training period, with no mention of the reports filed with the LEA in March.
There’s no word yet from the state administration regarding a new director at the LEAB. Baker told the LEAB that the director’s job would soon be posted on the state’s job website, but, as of this writing, there was no open position listed for an LEA Director. Meaning that in addition to his many duties as the DPS deputy cabinet secretary, Baker will continue to oversee the day-to-day operation of the academy.
The new LEA Director will be chosen by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and then ratified by the LEAB. But at least one LEAB member would like to take a more direct role in the selection of a new LEA Director.
“In reference to the search for the new director, have an opportunity to vet or interview the new director or the applicants,” Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza asked at the April LEAB meeting. “I think it’s important also for the Board to have some input in reference to the new director.”
Baker told the board he’d look into the process, but it’s unlikely that the LEAB will play any role outside of the ratification of the governor’s appointee to the position. This will be the second time Lujan Grisham has had to find a new director for the LEA in the past four years. Previous LEA director Kelly Alzaharna was appointed in 2018 and was let go in March 2022.
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