Survey: profiling policies not practiced

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer

Law enforcement officials in Curry and Roosevelt counties say they are now in compliance with a 2009 law requiring them to have policies in place that ban bias-based profiling.

But a spokesperson for an immigrant advocacy group said that may not have been the case when a survey was taken last year.

Aimee Villareal said a 2011 statewide survey of all law enforcement agencies in New Mexico in collaboration with Somos Un Pueblo Unido found 51 percent of the agencies have a written policy on bias-based policing, but only 25 percent surveyed have policies with a clear definition.

The report was an evaluation of state law enforcement agencies' compliance with the Prohibition of Profiling Practices Act, a state law passed in 2009 requiring agencies to ban bias-based profiling.

Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said he would dispute the findings of Villareal's study, which indicate the Curry County Sheriff's Office does not have an updated policy.

"To my understanding, this was a cursory study," Waller said. "We are in compliance (with the 2009 act)."

Waller says their policy is based upon a model policy by the New Mexico Association of Counties.

Waller said in the 5 1/2 years he's worked at the CCSO, they have not had a single allegation or complaint for profiling.

Villareal said the study found an alarming 24 percent of the agencies did not have a written policy and about 25 percent did not provide or refused to release information about their policy after multiple requests.

"We were one of the (agencies) that didn't provide it because that's when we were doing our review and we didn't even have it available," said Lt. Mark Cage with the Portales Police Department.

Cage said prior to their request, they have always had a bias-based policy and they have one now that says the department is charged with protecting the rights for all regardless of race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, physical handicap, age, religion or any other belief system.

According to the report, the Clovis Police Department did not provide or have a written policy at the time the study was conducted.

Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders said their policy does follow state law and officials won't make contact without having probable cause.

"We're basing (investigation) on probable cause, facts and behaviors that violate law," Sanders said.

He added that Clovis police would treat bias-based profiling complaints no differently than any other complaint.

Clovis City Commissioner Robert Sandoval said he has confident area agencies are complying with the law.

"I have great rapport with our chief of police and our county sheriff," Sandoval said. "If there was an issue, I can go talk to them and resolve it."

After an evaluation of the initial results of the 97 agencies in New Mexico surveyed, an in-depth case study was conducted by Villareal, which evaluated 30 agencies. Her study gave the Roosevelt County Sheriff's Office a "C" grade overall, losing points for not having an updated policy, not publishing information about their policy and not establishing a time frame within which complaints can be made and investigated.

Villareal said she had a difficult time getting in contact with RCSO's Chief Deputy Malin Parker. She also said she made a visit to the office and was denied twice when she asked for the policy in person.

Eventually, Villareal said, the policy was faxed to her.

"Parker refused to complete the survey," Villareal said. "They also lost points in making (the policy) accessible. We had a lot of difficulty with Roosevelt County."

Parker said to his knowledge, they were one of the first agencies in the state to adopt a policy when the 2009 law was passed.

He added they collaborated with state officials to make sure they were within the guidelines.

"We met and beat the deadline to have a policy on record," Parker said.

Villareal said since data was collected in 2011, if any updates have been made to an agency's policy, she is not aware of them.

"I would like to do a follow-up study in six months to give them the opportunity to show me those changes," Villareal said. "I hope that's what happens, that's the reason…I did the study."

She said having good policies in place leads to good practices. She also touched on recommendations made by civil rights organizations in the communities of these agencies to improve the issues with these policies.

"There should be standardization across the board, policies were different from one agency to the next," Villareal said. "There has been a lack of transparency and I hope the study remedies this. Agencies need to have complaint forms so that people can be heard. When we don't give them that, that's when civil rights are violated."

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