Murder spike in New Mexico: Cops blame Department of Justice probe, weak leadership
Albuquerque police officers are 'handcuffed,' union president says
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told Fox News crime is surging in their city because cops are not allowed to do their jobs.
"You have high crime, you have high substance abuse, you have a weak on crime approach at the state legislature—we have since the beginning of time," Detective Shaun Willougby, president of the Albuquerque Police Association, told Fox News in an exclusive interview.
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"Couple that with a completely handcuffed police department and eight years into a consent decree … and this is what you get," Willoughby continued.
The Albuquerque Police Department entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2014 after an investigation concluded the local agency "engaged in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force."
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"That opened the door for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., to basically almost govern and be intricately involved in everything this police department does," Willoughby said.
Albuquerque officers involved in use of force incidents are required to go through a rigorous investigation, according to the terms of the agreement.
For example, if an officer puts a resisting suspect into handcuffs during an arrest, it could be considered use of force, Willoughby said. He told Fox News an investigation could take officers off the street for four to six hours and that it happens regularly.
"I have seen entire area commands where 50,000 people live – because of two uses of force, just two weeks ago – the whole area command was shut down," Willoughby said. "All officers available, to include chain of command, were investigating uses of force."
"We're already significantly understaffed," Willoughby continued. "Now, because of the policies that we've created – and some of them are really ridiculous – we have less officers on the streets protecting and serving this community simply because they're following the policy that exists."
In 2021, Albuquerque broke its annual homicide record with 117 killings. The city’s yearly homicide count has averaged about 45 homicides per year over the last 35 years, according to local media reports.
Consent decrees came under harsh criticism from former President Trump’s DOJ, which said they were overused and a harmful federal intrusion on law enforcement.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo in 2018 directing the agency to sharply limit their use.
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Attorney General Merrick Garland rescinded the Trump-era memo last April, making it easier for the Biden DOJ to use consent decrees as an enforcement tool.
"The whole part of the conversation is like an open loop," Willoughby said. "We have a bunch of politicians that think in election cycles, and they're going to say the right talking points because they poll well."
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"They're going to manipulate people to vote for them, but when push comes to shove, they're not investing in the actual problem," he added.
"We need politicians who invest in the problem, they think outside the box and not just in their four-year election cycle," Willoughby told Fox News. "I think the whole country is plagued with that same problem."
The Albuquerque Police Department lost more than 250 officers over the last two years due to people leaving the profession, retirement and officers going to other departments, according to the Albuquerque Police Association.