ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New revelations about APD officer Rick Ingram’s use of a discontinued Taser shotgun last March come not just on the one-year anniversary of the James Boyd shooting, but also at a time when the city of Albuquerque’s longstanding and cozy business relationship with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based stun gun and body camera manufacturer is under increasing scrutiny.
In a series of reports last year, News 13 revealed first that longtime Police Chief Ray Schultz had taken a job with Taser shortly after his retirement in 2013 — and weeks after the city inked a $1.9 million deal with the company for body cameras and cloud-based video storage — then that he had been in talks with Taser about a job for months before his retirement.
In one email, obtained by KRQE News 13 after a public records request, Schultz assured a Taser representative that the body camera contract had been “greased” and would sail through a City Council committee. Schultz sent that email while he was still at the helm of APD.
Those stories prompted City Councilor Dan Lewis to call for an investigation by the city’s inspector general. The state auditor also launched an investigation into the relationship between Schultz and Taser. Nearly a year later, neither of those inquiries is complete. An official from the auditor’s office said last week that agency’s findings will be released within the next few weeks. The inspector general has not made any indications about his timeline.
Earlier this month, the story gained national attention when Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley published a report that showed Taser had cultivated financial relationships with police chiefs from Fort Worth, Texas, to New Orleans to Salt Lake City. Foley’s story included the questionable relationship between Taser and Schultz, who now works as the assistant chief in Memorial Gardens, Texas. Schultz maintains his Taser job with the blessing of Memorial Gardens Chief J.D. Sanders, himself a former New Mexico lawman.
When reached by email, Schultz wouldn’t answer questions about whether he stands by his previous statements that his pre- and post-retirement relationship with Taser was appropriate. He also defended APD’s use of Tasers on his watch.
The contract Schultz helped secure for Taser made Albuquerque the company’s largest domestic client for its burgeoning body-worn camera and Internet-based storage business. Schultz had even boasted in a February 2013 interview for an Albuquerque Journal story that Taser had altered the design of its body-worn camera system based on his advice.
APD and Taser go back a lot farther than the advent of cameras for cops, though.
The department has spent hundreds of thousands — and possibly millions — of dollars on Taser stun guns, accessories and maintenance during the past decade-plus. Hundreds of Taser’s handheld X26 and X3 stun guns are among the purchases.
As APD bought more Tasers, its officers used them more.
APD’s use of Taser weapons shot up 67 percent between 2009 and 2012, from 123 times to 205 times, according to the department’s own numbers. In those same years, violent crime in Albuquerque decreased, as did assaults on police officers.
The dramatic increase in the use of Taser weapons did not correspond with a sharp decline in the use of firearms – police shootings fluctuated up and down between 2009 and 2012. However, during that period of time, violent crime decreased in the city of Albuquerque. So did assaults on police. So, too, did the department’s use of all other less-lethal weapons, such as chemical spray, batons and beanbag shotguns.
By the department’s own analysis, that was an intentional shift. Training at the APD Academy became focused on using Tasers. And in May 2011, Schultz ordered every officer on the force to carry stun guns manufactured by his future employer, lauding the weapons as a “good tool” to “de-escalate a situation short of the use of deadly force.”
“Use of force training occurs on a regular basis, but general trend has been with more of an emphasis on the Taser than on other force options,” Michael Miller, then-lieutenant of APD’s Internal Affairs Unit, wrote to Schultz in a memo dated Feb. 1, 2013.
“There is a concern that officers may be over-relying on the Taser to de-escalate a situation,” Miller wrote in the memo, without making clear who was raising those concerns. “As with all use of force incidents, the circumstances are dynamic and unique to each individual situation. It is essential that officers use the lowest level of de-escalation techniques to successfully resolve a situation.”
KRQE News 13 obtained the data and Miller’s memo through a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act for APD’s annual use of force reports. Those reports examine how many calls for police service resulted in an officer use of force and what kind of weapon or technique the officer used.
APD compiles the data from forms officers fill out after every use of force incident. The forms are sent to Internal Affairs.
Department officials released the use of force analyses for 2011 and 2012, but have repeatedly refused to release reports for 2013 and 2014. News 13 made its request for the 2013 report last April, and the city’s refusal is one of numerous claims in a lawsuit filed against the city by News 13 for serial violations of the state’s public records law.
City police officers reaching more often for their Tasers had its down side, too. In October 2012, the Justice Department launched a wide-ranging investigation into the way they use force and deadly force against citizens. The DOJ’s report of findings, released last April, found that a “culture of aggression” and a failed accountability structure — among other factors — had led to a systemic pattern and practice of violating people’s civil rights.
Federal investigators made particular note of Taser use in Albuquerque. They pointed to a handful of previously unreported incidents, including one in which APD officers set a man on fire with a Taser after the man had doused himself in gasoline, as evidence of the department’s “over-reliance on Tasers.”
“Residents have complained, and we were able to confirm, that APD officers used Tasers in a manner that was disproportionate to the threat encountered and in situations where lesser force options were more appropriate,” the DOJ report states. Officers frequently used the weapons against people who were “passively resisting,” those who were “experiencing mental health crises” and “against individuals in a punitive manner.”
To resolve the Justice Department’s many findings against APD, city officials in April began several months of negotiations with DOJ lawyers and officials. Mayor Richard Berry hired Tom Streicher, a former chief of the Cincinnati Police Department, and Scott Greenwood, who used to regularly sue Streicher in his role with the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, to negotiate on behalf of the Berry administration.
Greenwood and Streicher, former adversaries, now work as a team to advise cities that are experiencing law enforcement crises. The two men have another thing in common: they are both fans of Taser.
Together, they penned a glowing op-ed about police body-worn cameras for the New York Daily News in 2013. Greenwood has described Taser’s Axon Flex camera system as the “gold standard” in interviews. And Streicher has appeared in Taser promotional videos and at law enforcement conferences praising the company’s products.
The pair have been cagey when asked about the specifics of their relationship with Taser. They refused to discuss any of their clients in an interview last year with News 13. They refused to answer the same question in an interview with local PBS correspondent Gwyneth Doland.
Greenwood told the City Council last June that he had not received “a personal penny from Taser,” and neither had his partner. But he refused to disclose a client list when Councilor Rey Garduno asked for it.
Schultz, Streicher and Greenwood have appeared as speakers and presenters at Taser-sponsored conferences through the years — including some events before Schultz left APD. Schultz is scheduled to speak on Thursday at the “Taser Innovation Summit” in Australia. Streicher was photographed making a presentation at a Taser-hosted conference earlier this month.
The suggestion to hire the consulting company Greenwood and Streicher now run together came from a prominent member of the local business community: Teri Cole, CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, a city spokeswoman told News 13 last year.
Greenwood was among the signatories for the city on a 106-page settlement agreement that calls for sweeping reforms at APD. Justice Department officials have signed it, too. A federal judge is reviewing the agreement and is expected to sign it.
After a 20-year career with APD, Schultz took a two-year hiatus to work as deputy chief for the Scottsdale Police Department — the home city of Taser International. Greenwood maintains a residence in that city, too.