New Mexico State Police Chief Calls for More Public Access to Police Misconduct Cases

State police chief: Make misconduct cases more accessible to public

New Mexico State Police Chief Calls for More Public Access to Cop Misconduct Cases
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, from a June 30,2016 interview with KOB.

It appears the mythological good cop is indeed working from the inside to reign in police terror. Well that seems to be the case with New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas who’s calling for easier public access to the agency’s investigations of alleged misconduct by police officers across the state. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the police chief has added the idea to the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board’s public meeting agenda scheduled for tomorrow in Albuquerque.

Under the current modus operandi the board addresses complaints of officer misconduct outside of the public eye. After a discussion of the facts the board members vote whether to discipline an officer or not. The voting is done open to the public so in practice the board members have already decided their course of action prior to the public vote. If the vote turns out in favor of discipling the officer the form of punishment is discussed behind closed doors. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“Those discussions leave the public without key details that could implicate or exonerate officers — who are named publicly during the voting sessions.”

Kassetas is taking the lead  in pushing for this change by making television appearances about the issue and spreading his message that bad cops can no longer be tolerated by the profession. The chief makes the example of Lt. Gary Smith, a State Police lieutenant in Roswell. Smith retired in February amid accusations that he put in for overtime he never worked. He is now facing seven fourth-degree felony charges in a pending state District Court trial in Roswell. It was his fellow officers that broke the Blue Code and ratted him out.

“What triggered it was my belief that we have to police our own profession,” Kassetas said. “Such cases have caused embarrassment to a profession that cannot be above the law while at the same time upholding it.”

“It’s a sad end to his career but as the chief again I’m not losing any sleep for it. There’s no room in my organization for theft or fraud dishonest officers, so get out,” Kassetas said in an on-air interview with KRQE News 13 in August.

The New Mexico State Police Chief cites a practice by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. The board publishes on its website a quarterly an integrity bulletin, which summarizes the board’s investigatory findings into cases of officer misconduct across the state. The quarterly updates includes summaries of revocations, suspensions, mandatory revocations because of felonies, denials and voluntary relinquishment of law enforcement officers’ certifications. The only information missing from these public updates are the names of specific officers or agencies but they do cite the case numbers.

The New Mexico board along with other agencies could take advantage of the internet by making internal workings more accessible. Instead of forcing residents and journalists to request documents through the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IRPA) they can just pull the information off the internet.

“Why do we make journalists or the public IPRA the pursuit policy?” Kassetas said. “It should be there.”

It would save their public-records custodians time because they would not have to process Inspection of Public Records Act requests but that’s how bureaucracies work. Make things as convoluted as possible and monetize every step of the way.