Growing up, I was always taught that police officers and firefighters are “the good guys”. They save lives, they fix problems, and when you need them, they will help you. As an adult and a journalist working in a city where there’s a lot of attention on everything the police department does, things get a little more complicated. Police officers are humans — and sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they also do “the wrong thing” by choice– and we report on it when they do.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice released a findings report culminating from an investigation of the police department here in Albuquerque. It stated that the Albuquerque Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Since then, the city has been under negotiations with the Department of Justice to develop a consent decree laying out plans moving forward, and the department has been working to improve relationships with the community. It is an interesting time to be a journalist, and there are a lot of layers to the process.
The community is divided on a lot of police-related issues. But most people I talk to describe a willingness to have the community and police work together and support each other. When I think about that support, I often think to an event that shocked Albuquerque and brought people together. This weekend marked the one-year-anniversary of that event.
On October 26, 2013, a man named Christopher Chase armed himself with an AK47 and told people on the street to call police. When they arrived, he started shooting- eventually hitting three officers and a deputy before he crashed into a gas station and police shot and killed him. The deputy, in particular, suffered a shot to the leg that hit an artery, and she was saved because of quick work by others and a tourniquet. In the days, weeks and months that followed, that day stood as a reminder of the danger officers often face in the line of duty, and people used it as a reason to think about what officers go through, and how to help them. To honor that day, I talked with an officer on the front lines that day, the deputy who was shot, and a sergeant credited with saving lives.
I chose to tell the story without any track — to let their words explain what they felt that day, and what they feel now looking back on it. I’m glad that’s how I told this story- or, well, how I helped them tell it.