Widely criticized for the use of excessive force, New Mexico’s largest police department denies it is militarizing after spending $350,000 on 350 high-powered assault rifles.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) garnered national attention earlier this year when they were caught on camera shooting a homeless man, James Boyd, in the back.
The department awarded a bid to a local vendor for the purchase of 350 AR-15 rifles – the same gun used to kill Boyd – at a cost of approximately $1,000 a piece.
Under the two-year contract, the department will buy 350 new guns and more if needed during the second year in batches of 50, KOB-TV reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico was surprised to learn of the purchase. Executive director Peter Simonson had been told police were moving away from the use of high-powered weapons after the Department of Justice said APD had a "pattern and practice" of using excessive and deadly force.
"I think it sends a contradictory message to the public, and I think it should raise concerns about how seriously they're actually taking the DOJ reforms," Simonson told KOB-TV.
APD Union President Stephanie Lopez says the department has to buy AR-15s because 320 of their officers are trained to shoot rifles.
"Because that training shouldn't go to waste. There is a need to have these weapons on the street and within the department," Lopez said.
Officers were forbidden from carrying their own rifles because they were treating them like “status symbols,” according to the DOJ report.
"I don't think it's militarizing the department," Lopez said.
In June, the ACLU reported widespread militarization of police departments, claiming that war tactics are disproportionately used against minorities.
"We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs," Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice, said.
"Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy," Danksy continued. "This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death."
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