ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden sent a special order to officers Tuesday via a letter and three-minute video. In them, he states, “all officers shall issue citations when appropriate in lieu of arrests on non-violent misdemeanor offenses.”

This means if criminals trespass, cause damage to property under $1,000, shoplift under $500, or are caught with small amounts of drugs, more than likely they’ll be sent away with a citation.

It’s a decision Albuquerque Police Union President Shaun Willoughby called “shocking.”

“The criminal element is going to be happy as a clam,” he said. “This is already the best place, like I said, to be a criminal. We’re just confirming it and putting it in court orders.”

The orders are part of the McClendon Lawsuit. Jimmie McClendon filed a lawsuit in 1995 on behalf of a group of inmates at MDC. He sued the city and county following a misdemeanor arrest. It centered on jail overcrowding and took more than 20 years to resolve.

But Willoughby said the order only weakens public safety.

“Take concealing identity. If you have someone concealing their identity, how are you supposed to issue a citation?  Are you supposed to name it under ‘John Doe’ and then send that to the court house?” he asked.

In the video, Chief Eden made it clear that this directive is a “new, special order for all APD officers” and that it’s “effective immediately.”

The department declined to go on camera, but spokesperson Celina Espinoza told KRQE News 13, over the phone, that this isn’t something new, and if anything it provides officers with more discretion.

However, the union disputes that claim.

“You’re basically telling the entire criminal element that police officers are further handcuffed,” Willoughby said. “It’s a weak policy. It’s bad for public safety and we’re all going to suffer from it.”

The Albuquerque Police Department made it clear that this order will not affect DWI arrests.

If officers arrest someone for any of the listed misdemeanors, they must provide a reason why.

APD also issued the following statement from Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman:

This order in no way restricts officers’ discretion to make arrests when necessary to protect the public. Citations have always been an available option for certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses. This special order and video remind officers to issue citations ‘when appropriate’ and ‘when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest.’ We are still aggressively pursuing repeat offenders, and this order does not change an officer’s ability to arrest. –Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman

KRQE News 13 also reached out to BCSO. The department responded saying “Nothing has changed for BCSO when it comes to misdemeanor arrests.”

The department said deputies have always used their discretion on misdemeanor crimes that occur in their presence.