Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shot and killed 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes after she allegedly pulled a gun out at officers. It may have been just another police shooting in America but for it being the third one in Albuquerque in the last month and the first since a scathing Department of Justice (DOJ) report on civil rights violations and brutality in the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
The DOJ report stopped short of holding any actual police officers accountable for the pattern and practice of constitutional violations. But the fatal shooting of Hawkes highlights the necessity of holding police officers to a high standard and penalizing them up to the point of termination for poor conduct, even if that conduct doesn't rise to the level of actual crime.
Too often, cops are not accused of crimes, because such an accusation requires a determination be made by a prosecutor who almost always relies on cooperation from police to pursue other cases. Prosecutors, then, aren't usually interested in prosecuting cops. So-called officer-involved shootings often end with investigations partly or wholly undertaken by the departments to which the cops under investigation belong, with prosecutors declining to prosecute or failing to make a case to indict to a grand jury.
By the account of the APD, the shooting of Hawkes appears arguably justifiable. No narrative from the family, which includes her foster father, a former judge and cop, or anyone else has emerged to contradict the police's story. Yet, unsurprisingly, doubts remain about what happened, because a decades-long pattern of abuse and brutality at the department—while police continue to duck accountability for any wrongdoing—has eroded any constructive relationship the police may have with the community. In this particular shooting, the police chief, Gordon Eden, said lapel video from Jeremy Dear, the officer who killed Hawkes, could not be recovered and that officers who fail to activate their lapel cams could face letters of reprimand or suspensions.
If the APD hopes to ever restore its relationship with the community and its very integrity, it will have to treat cops who fail to follow procedure and then kill in the line of duty far more harshly. Dear may or may not have erred in shooting Hawkes, but he erred in not activating his lapel camera every time he went on duty. That negligence has now contributed to uncertainty about the shooting, further wrecking the reputation of the APD and exacerbating the pattern or practice of abuse, brutality, and corruption in Albuquerque that the DOJ reported on to just two weeks ago. Dear may or may not belong in jail. His dereliction of duty, however, ought to already preclude him from continued employment with the APD.