Farmington police to host use-of-force meeting

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department will host a public forum Tuesday night to discuss the agency's use-of-force policies.

Attorney Eric Daigle of the Daigle Law Group will speak at the forum, which will be at 7 p.m. at the Farmington Civic Center, about national trends in use of force and the Farmington Police Department's policies.

Daigle is a former detective with the Connecticut State Police who now serves as a legal adviser to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including departments that are reforming under federal court orders, according to the law group's website.

Daigle submitted a letter of interest in Dec. 10, 2014, to serve as monitor of the Albuquerque Police Department, but the U.S. Department of Justice and the police department selected police reform expert James D. Ginger.

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said Monday his department has worked with the Daigle Law Group for the past year to review and revise the department's use-of-force policies.

He said the group is training officers on issues such as how to handle resistant handcuffed prisoners and street inebriates suspected of street-level crime.

Hebbe said the effort is part of an overall plan to improve officers' relations with residents, and reflects in part the ongoing national discussion about police shootings.

"Before my arrival, we already started on body cameras," Hebbe said. "Now we are building on that. What are we trying to do to earn the trust of the community and keep that trust?"

In June, the Farmington Police Department trained its 134 officers in crisis intervention, a nonviolent police tactic to deal with individuals with mental illness or in crisis.

Hebbe said Daigle Law Group has trained the department's officers in a "constitution-based" use-of-force model, which teaches officers the underlying legal principles that permit the use of force.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board voted in July 2014 to discontinue teaching police cadets the Reactive Control Model, which teaches officers to use a scaled response to resistance or aggression.

Elsa Lopez, a community organizer with the immigration-and-labor-rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said she supported the chief's efforts to build trust with local Mexican nationals, some of whom are afraid to contact police because of their immigration status.

"It's important to address these issues, not through more force, but by implementing policies that meet the needs of all communities," Lopez said.

Lopez said Somos Un Pueblo Unido members would attend the department's meeting.

The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission could not be reached for comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.