ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – They’re a constant on Albuquerque Police cars, and chances are you’ve probably seen at least one – on the back of every marked patrol car is a question for others: “How’s my driving?” But how often do people actually report police driving?
To find out, KRQE News 13 submitted a records request for all police-related driving complaints submitted to the city’s 311 hotline. The data reveals that over the last six years, from 2017 through 2022, citizens have complained about police driving over 200 times.
Of the 265 complaints, 240 were mappable. That is, they had enough information to identify where the alleged bad driving happened. As it turns out, the complaints more or less occurred citywide.
Citizens have been free to complain about police driving for years. But following a deadly crash in 2013 where an off-duty police officer killed Ashley Browder, a lawsuit settlement led to a new requirement for the department. APD agreed that all marked vehicles would be required to have a “How’s my driving?” stickers or markings. Other driving related requirements were also included.
“In every cadet class, the cadets as part of their training, are taught about the crash to remind them to always drive safely and responsibly on the roadways,” says Rebecca Atkins, a spokesperson for APD. “They also complete a memorial run in Ashley’s honor, and run from the police academy to the site where the crash occurred at Paseo del Norte and Eagle Ranch Road.”
According to Atkins, drivers of city vehicles, including APD officers, are required to take a defensive driving course. The mandatory training must be renewed every four years. But complaints submitted by the public reveal that some think APD officers aren’t always driving defensively.
As you might expect, complaints run the gamut from allegations of improperly taking up parking spaces to potentially illegal activity. Note, that the complaints show only one side of the story: Just because someone submits a complaint doesn’t necessarily mean an APD officer misbehaved.
Many of the complaints allege some sort of “erratic driving.” For example, one caller reported that a police vehicle “slammed on brakes in front of caller and crossed two lanes and crossed [the] white line to get off [at an] exit.” Another caller reported that a police vehicle “never used a turn signal, and just cut across all lanes.” That caller told 311 that the police need to “lead by example.”
Speeding is also a relatively frequent complaint. “Police vehicle speeding 75 mph on Paseo de[l] Norte, police officer looking down while driving,” one complaint says. “APD unit was going 80 on 45 MPH area,” another claims.
Complaints of police running stop signs and red lights also appear. And so do accusations of police parking where they shouldn’t. KRQE News 13 previously reported on complaints that an officer regularly parked on a neighborhood sidewalk. And several complaints allege APD officers blocked handicap parking spots at places like Walmart and Whole Foods.
So what happens to the complaints? The records show that most of the driving complaints received some sort of attention. Many of the complaints were sent to Operations Review, an APD entity in charge of overseeing department operations. Some of the complaints were also taken to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA).
The CPOA’s website notes that they conduct independent investigations into police complaints and then, if necessary, make recommendations to APD. But the Chief of Police can reject those recommendations; if the chief disagrees with the CPOA, the chief simply submits a letter explaining why APD disagrees.
Some driving complaints do get investigated by the CPOA. In February 2022, a complainant alleged that an APD vehicle switched lanes without using a turn signal and almost caused a collision. When the CPOA looked into the issue, they found that because there wasn’t any video camera footage of the officer driving poorly, and there was a record that APD gave the complainant a speeding ticket. The complaint was deemed “not sustained.”
Driving complaints can also fall outside of the CPOA’s oversight. The latest CPOA semi-annual report notes that at least some “driving complaints [are] forwarded to officer supervisor for resolution” and not investigated by the CPOA.
Those reports are generally processed by APD. Complaints reviewed by internal Operations Review are checked by APD supervisors, according to Atkins. Then, the supervisors email the mayor’s office about the incident.
When officers do violate procedures or make mistakes, “those incidents are handled accordingly,” Atkins says. “And officers do face discipline for such violations.”
KRQE News 13 asked APD to clarify department policy on driving. Here’s their response:
Department personnel shall:
- Possess a valid New Mexico driver’s license and a valid City Operator’s Permit to operate the vehicle;
- Wear their seat belts when operating the vehicle, unless exempted by a supervisor, or when specific situations override safety considerations;
- Operate their vehicle in a safe manner while on- and off-duty;
- While operating their vehicle, be responsible when using the police radio; a. Department personnel shall exercise due caution when operating their Mobile Digital Terminal (MDT) while driving.
- Be responsible for the appearance and cleanliness of the interior and exterior parts of the vehicle;
- Properly secure and park the vehicle to prevent damage to the vehicle and theft of its contents
Atkins from APD clarified that if there is an emergency, APD officers are allowed to park in handicapped spots or fire lanes. But if there’s not an emergency, complaints about officers parking in such spots are investigated internally.