ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - The police union said Thursday it will end its controversial practice of giving money to police officers who have been involved in shootings so they can afford to seek privacy outside the city after the incidents.
The announcement came after union President Joey Sigala and Vice President Felipe Garcia resigned earlier this week when pressure intensified on the union to halt the payments, which some had criticized as bounty.
The Albuquerque Police Officers Association named Sgt. Greg Weber as interim president and Sgt. Tom Henderson as interim vice president.
The union made the announcement about the payments with Mayor Richard Berry and Police Chief Ray Schultz.
The Albuquerque Journal preciously reported the union gave 20 officers involved in shootings in 2010 and 2011 payments of $300 or $500 each to help cover expenses for officers and their families to decompress outside the Albuquerque area.
The disclosure brought added pressure to the Police Department that has been under fire for more than a year for an escalation in police shootings and as police shot and killed two men in three days.
Albuquerque officers have been involved in 23 shootings, with 17 fatalities, since January 2010, which prompted calls from the City Council and civil rights advocates for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
Weber said the union's executive board decided public perception over the payments was a problem.
"The rank and file never questioned the practice, but they know that it could be misconstrued by the public," he said.
In the future, Weber said, the union will decide if it can offer help on a case-by-case basis.
Berry, whose initial call for a halt to the payments was rejected by Sigala and Garcia, said he was glad the new union leadership decided to end the practice.
The U.S. Justice Department said federal officials were finishing up a preliminary probe and would make an announcement soon on whether federal officials would investigate the department.
Last year, Albuquerque police made a number of changes to its hiring and training practices in response to a report from an outside group hired to review the escalation in shootings.
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