Thursday, June 14, 2007

Police officers shouldn't carry guns, review team says

Check Out SWOP's Blog

By Susie Gran, Abq Tribune
Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's time to disarm the school police and let city and county cops carry the guns, the experts say.

Contracts with Albuquerque police and the Bernalillo County sheriff are the best law enforcement option for Albuquerque Public Schools, a review team from the Council of Great City Schools says.

The team's recommendation was reviewed on June 14 by the district's new Community Safety Commission, formed to help determine the fate of the embattled APS Police Department.

The council team also recommended overhauling the district's police department to create a new safety and security arm.

The team said the Albuquerque Board of Education and its administration don't seem to have the will or leadership to run an armed police force.

"Based on their past performance, it is not apparent that the Board of Education and the district's executive leadership team would provide the executive leadership, support and backing, and make the critical and difficult decisions that would be required to create a safety, security and professional, fully authorized law enforcement department," the report said.

The review team said the proposed safety and security department could concentrate on intervention and prevention in creating safe schools.

The commission will review the team's recommendation, then forward its own recommendation on to Superintendent Beth Everitt.

The goal is to have all changes in place by the time school starts in August, said district spokesman Joseph Escobedo.

The APS Police Department has a $3.1 million budget and 40 sworn officers, who are allowed to carry their weapons before and after school. Currently, there are 32 officers and eight openings.

Everitt called on the Council of Great City Schools to make recommendations on best practices for school police after the debate over arming officers heated up and audits verified problems in the department.

The chief for the last 16 years, Gil Lovato, has been on administrative leave since January amid allegations of misconduct and mismanagement of his department.

Everitt has said she will not renew his contract when it expires June 30.

Under Lovato, the district's school police operated as a police department with sworn officers. Many officers have urged the school board to allow them to carry guns around the clock.

The school board agreed to review its gun policy after the council review. Some board members also suggested the district consider disbanding its police force and asking the city or county to contract police services.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who is a member of the safety commission, said on June 12 that APS must decide whether it needs its own police department, an unarmed security force or a little of both.

"It's kind of like an identity crisis," White said of school police.

"The district needs to do a needs assessment to determine if they need sworn officers. If they do, then they need to be armed."

White said it's not his recommendation for the sheriff or city police to take over school police.

"We should have close coordination, and the head of school police should report directly to the superintendent," he said.

Meanwhile, the district and Lovato are preparing for a court battle over his contract.

Lovato's attorney, Sam Bregman, said he intends to sue the district on the grounds of wrongful termination, defamation and retaliation.

The district refused Bregman's offer of a $500,000 settlement to end the dispute, district spokesman Rigo Chavez said.

An internal audit of Lovato's department identified 20 infractions including poor evidence-room inventory

No comments: