Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of The Torch
Robby Heckman, like many ACLU volunteers, experienced something in his personal life that shook him to the core and drove him to action. Robby was selected as a juror in the trial of Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez for the shooting and killing of James Boyd, a man living on the literal and figurative margins of our community.
For Robby, the experience was incredibly challenging on an intellectual and emotional level. The trial laid bare the enormous threats that people suffering from mental illnesses or homelessness face when confronted by inadequately trained police and it left him feeling deeply unsettled.
“I strongly believe that an important measure of our society is how we treat our most vulnerable,” he said.
Robby is an archaeologist by trade and works for a cultural resource management firm in Albuquerque. He and his family moved here from Tucson in 2006, and they live in the Northeast Heights. Robby and his wife Susan have three children - Jay is at the University of New Mexico, Ryan is a senior at El Dorado High School, and their daughter Maggy is in 3rd grade.
Many people with commitments like Robby, to work, family, and church, would have quickly returned to their busy lives after the trial concluded. But that unsettled feeling kept gnawing at him and compelled him to act.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the trial and all of the problems I saw with APD. So, I began to immerse myself in the police reform process, learning about the developments that have unfolded since APD entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice in 2014.”
"My experience as a juror [on the James Boyd case] appropriately dislodged me from my comfortable and privileged position in our community and compelled me to become involved..."
He eagerly read the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and each of the subsequent reports filed by the Independent Monitoring Team. While he found the reports informative, they were hundreds of pages long, incredibly dense, and consisted entirely of narrative descriptions. Robby knew from his professional life managing large and complex archaeological data sets that there might be an alternative way to track and monitor APD’s compliance progress.
“By trade, I’m an archaeologist so I study human systems, how societies organize themselves, and how they address and resolve conflict. I believe every human institution is imperfect and flawed in some way and that institutions such as APD require checks and balances. So, I created a relational database that compiled all of the Monitoring Team’s reports, resulting in a single, cumulative data set to more easily facilitate tracking APD progress toward the reforms set out in the CASA. I wanted to make the results of the Monitor’s findings more easily digestible and accessible to the community to ensure accountability and transparency,” said Robby.
Once the database was complete, Robby wasn’t sure where to turn next – he was in possession of a powerful tool but unsure how to put it to work. Robby decided to share the database with his pastor Trey Hammond of La Mesa Presbyterian Church and he immediately recognized he was looking at something special. La Mesa Presbyterian is a member of the APD Forward coalition, a diverse group of people and organizations, including the ACLU of New Mexico, which work towards police reform. Trey knew APD Forward would be the perfect place for Robby to leverage his archaeological skill set unearthing hidden truths to advance the fight for police reform.
All of us have special talents, skills, and expertise that make us uniquely equipped to fight for justice in our communities. Like Robby, we just need to ask ourselves where we can plug in and put those talents and love to work.
APD Forward and the ACLU are fortunate to have volunteers like Robby and dozens of people just like him, who contribute hundreds of hours in passionate service to a cause they believe in. We are honored to work with him and so many other wonderful, smart, and committed individuals. If you’re not already connected with the ACLU of New Mexico’s volunteer program, we’d love to hear from you. We’re always looking for the next archaeologist, photographer, or tax accountant to help us fight for equal justice for all.
Find out more at www.aclu-nm.org/act