SANTA FE, NM - Today, New Mexico State Senator Linda Lopez and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico unveiled a groundbreaking new police reform bill that would create a statewide use of force standard -- the strongest in the nation -- for all state and local law enforcement in New Mexico. The law would eliminate the patchwork of failed use of force policies that has caused New Mexico to lead the nation in rates of police killings; establish clear guidelines for use of force as a last resort; ban certain dangerous holds, weapons and tactics; and require crucial accountability and transparency mechanisms across all departments.
“Our current laws governing use of force have failed to protect communities,” said New Mexico State Senator Linda Lopez, the bill sponsor. “Law enforcement officers in New Mexico can use deadly force even when it is not absolutely necessary for their safety or the safety of others and when alternatives have not been exhausted. This has resulted in heartbreak and tragedy for so many in our communities, especially people of color, who are disproportionately the victims of police violence.”
“Violence should always be the last resort when enforcing laws in our communities,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard. “The new use of force standard laid out by this proposed law will save lives, improve community trust in law enforcement, and help build more safe and effective police departments in every corner of our state. If this bill becomes law, New Mexico will lead the nation by establishing the single strongest use of force policy in the country - something we can all be proud of.”
In recent years, New Mexico has consistently ranked first or second in rates of police killings. In response to this epidemic of police violence, the new bill outlines common sense but transformative changes to use of force policy, holding law enforcement statewide accountable to a higher standard. The law would:
- Change the standard for use of force to “necessary,” ensuring that officers cannot use physical force upon another person unless the officer has exhausted de-escalation tactics and that such force is proportionate and necessary to prevent an imminent threat of harm to an identifiable person.
- Ban the use of certain types of force that have been catastrophic for our communities, such as chokeholds, the use of rubber bullets, and tear gas, as well as dangerous tactics like no- knock warrants.
- Implement crucial accountability and transparency mechanisms by requiring that police departments report on officer-involved injuries, that the public be able to inspect records relating to officer misconduct, and that departments implement and publish their use of force policies.
- Establish a statutory duty to intervene that mandates that officers step in and stop any interaction where they witness excessive and unlawful uses of force. This means that if an officer sees another officer harming someone in the community, they cannot just standby. They will be held accountable if they allow fellow officers to engage in unlawful uses of force.
“If these standards had been in place, my sister would likely still be alive today,” said Elaine Maestas, whose sister Elisha Lucero was shot 21 times by Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputies in 2019. “I don’t want any other family to experience the pain and loss we felt when Elisha was taken from us. For the sake of all our families, we must pass this groundbreaking bill into law.”
Along with the introduction of the bill, the ACLU of New Mexico also presented new polling data collected by the Benenson Strategy Group demonstrating New Mexico voters’ overwhelming support for the reforms outlined in the bill. A memo outlining the topline findings is available at the link below.