ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was made to bring accountability and more transparency to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO). But over two years after it started, is the Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board actually following that mission?
The county has tried to raise the board’s profile over the last year, while they’ve discussed higher-profile cases and controversial topics. However, it turns out the board doesn’t have a lot of power when it comes to independent investigations into the department.
Once a month, BCSO’s Advisory and Review Board, known as ‘SOARB,’ meets inside the county building. “What we essentially do is become a funnel, become a conduit for public comment into the sheriff’s office,” says Tommy Jewell, chairman of the board. Ideally, it’s an avenue where citizens can voice their concerns, in an effort to push the sheriff’s office toward accountability,
“Citizens in particular who don’t feel comfortable directly commenting to the sheriff might comment to us and so we explore those comments or those questions or those issues,” Jewell says. But, how much power does SOARB actually have? While they hear the complaints and put forth recommendations, they can’t actually force the sheriff’s office to take action.
The mission on SOARB’s website says it seeks to promote transparency and accountability. When asked how the board goes about holding BCSO accountable, Jewell says, “Certainly by asking the questions that others may not feel comfortable asking.”
On the agenda Friday is a prime example – the case of a traffic stop in the East Mountains where a deputy used a taser on a man he pulled over before arresting him and his wife. While the board wished to discuss it, BCSO declined saying the investigation had concluded but the decision on the next steps was still on the sheriff’s desk. BCSO says the deputy involved in that case is still on administrative leave while the investigation takes place.
BCSO says there isn’t an entity that does independently review its own internal investigations. “There’s not a specific board that reviews that. There is a chain of command, there is supervision just as with anything in the sheriff’s office. There’s [sic] supervisors all the way up the chain through the sheriff. They’re reviewing that and making sure they’re using best practices and procedures,” says Undersheriff Aaron Williamson of BCSO.
The question then becomes, “Should SOARB have more authority to look into cases like this one?” News 13 asked the chair Friday: “I think that’s probably a continuing question. The sheriff is an elected official and is held accountable in that manner by the public,” Jewell says.
The board chair asks the public to attend these meetings to give their input. He says if any citizens want the board to have more power, they should bring it up with the board at their monthly meetings. The next meeting is July 14.
BCSO’s Internal Affairs division takes citizen complaints and investigates them privately. So far, it says they’ve only received three complaints this year.