Albuquerque says US agents should respect its police reforms

By MORGAN LEE for the Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Democratic-led city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, asked the U.S. Justice Department for written assurances Friday that a surge in federal agents won’t be used to police protests or to target immigrant families or racial and ethnic minorities.

Attorney General William Barr speaks during an event on “Operation Legend: Combatting Violent Crime in American Cities,” in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a letter to the Justice Department’s U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, the city said it does not welcome federal agents making arrests and using force on people who assemble to exercise their rights to free speech.

The letter from deputy city attorney Samantha Hults seeks to hold newly assigned federal agents to the same standards of conduct imposed on the Albuquerque Police Department under a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department aimed at reining in police brutality — including the use of body-worn cameras.

The U.S. attorney’s office had no immediate response to the city’s requests.

The Albuquerque Police Department began implementing reforms years ago under a prior administration as part of a consent decree with the Justice Department. Federal authorities in 2014 issued a scathing report in response to a series of deadly police shootings in the city that pointed to patterns of excessive force, constitutional violations and a lack of training and oversight of its officers.

“We ask for your written commitment that federal agents will abide by the City of Albuquerque’s policies governing First Amendment assemblies … use of force and the use of on-body recording devices,” Hults wrote.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced in June that he wants to create a new city department to focus on community safety amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

That new department would be made up of social workers and other civilian professionals to focus on violence prevention and provide alternatives to dispatching police, firefighters or paramedics when people call 911.

The White House announced this week that federal agents will deploy to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Albuquerque to combat violent crime. U.S. Attorney General William Barr says 35 agents are being assigned to Albuquerque.

The Trump administration is contending with a backlash to sending federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Oregon, where protests have spiraled into violence.

A collection of Chicago activist groups want a judge to block federal agents sent to the city from interfering in or policing protests, arguing in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the surge ordered by President Donald Trump will inhibit residents’ ability to hold demonstrations.

The city of Albuquerque is seeking a “written commitment that these agents will focus on continuing the existing operations based on our partnership and continue to focus on high-level drug offenses, human trafficking offenses, federal crimes against children and gun crimes,” the letter says.