In this session we have a great opportunity to come together to fix our broken police system. That’s what so many people here in New Mexico and across the country are asking of us.
Here are the facts: Each year, New Mexico has one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of police homicides in the entire country. New Mexico police killed 27 people in 2021, according to Mapping Police Violence data; In comparison, New York police have killed 25 people this year, even though New York has more than nine times our population. Over the past ten years, more than 200 of our neighbors here in New Mexico have been killed by police—31 of them in the last year alone. And of course we know that when police use violence, people of color, the homeless and people with mental health problems are particularly affected.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We all agree that it is possible to strike a balance between keeping our communities safe and providing law enforcement officers with the tools they need to do their jobs without giving them a blank check on when to use force. For that reason, I am proud to introduce the Law Enforcement Officer Procedure Act in the state Senate as a step toward policing that lives up to our values of fairness, justice and justice under the law.
As a retired Air Force officer, I know the importance of having strong, clear, and consistent rules of engagement and force escalation policies. There is no reason why the police should be any different. Under this bill, officers must exhaust all available de-escalation tactics before resorting to violence. Any violence they use must be proportionate to the threat they face; Deadly force may only be used when necessary to protect human life.
These are not radical suggestions – they are common sense best practices. In fact, evidence shows that officers serving in more violent departments are less likely to be injured or killed on duty and are also less likely to injure or kill members of the public.
New Mexicans deserve to trust that calling a police officer will help make a situation safer — not cause it to end in tragedy. New levels of transparency in our police departments will go a long way in restoring trust between police forces and the communities they serve. The Law Enforcement Officer Procedures Act would also improve transparency by creating a database that will help ensure we adequately screen new officers so bad apples aren’t mishired.
I was elected to the New Mexico Senate in 2020 after a great reckoning on race and police brutality took place in our country. I have pledged to myself and our communities that I will work to find sensible solutions to this problem that are based on facts and protect the public and law enforcement officers.
Law enforcement is a tough job and I am grateful to the many New Mexicans who work hard to protect their communities. With sensible action, we can become leaders in police professionalization and make us all safer.
Harold Pope has represented District 23 in the New Mexico Senate since 2021.