Albuquerque mayor cites mental illness in police shootings

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque’s mayor took to the airwaves to answer questions about officer-involved shootings after a trying week for the city’s police force, calling on lawmakers to take up legislation that could help reduce police encounters with dangerous mentally ill residents.

Mayor Richard Berry said Friday that unlike cases in some other U.S. cities, he didn’t believe there were any links between race and the more than 40 police shootings in New Mexico’s largest city since 2010.

“But we’ve had a mental health component,” Berry said during an interview with KKOB-AM.

His comment about race referred to the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting of a young black teenager and the Staten Island, New York, choking death of a black suspect. Those deaths sparked protests nationwide, with critics saying they resulted from troubled relationships between police departments and black and Latino residents.

Around half of those shot by Albuquerque police in the past five years were Hispanic or black, according to records.

However, the city’s biggest demonstrations came after the March shooting of James Boyd, a 38-old-year white homeless man who authorities say suffered from schizophrenia.

Two officers face murder charges in his death.

David Correia, a police critic and an American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico, said he disagreed with the notion that race played no part in these shootings.

“This pattern is particularly racialized,” he said. “Just look who they are killing: young Chicano men.”

Correia said the reason race is overlooked in Albuquerque is because the shootings of Mexican Americans were largely ignored.

In April, the U.S. Justice Department released a harsh report that faulted Albuquerque police for using excessive force, especially in cases involving mentally ill suspects. The city and Justice Department recently signed an agreement to overhaul the police department.

But Berry said more reforms are needed for the mentally ill. He has asked state lawmakers to consider a bill that would force some residents with severe mental illness to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment.

“We need some help,” Berry said.

Under a bill proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, judges would be allowed to order patients to take medication and undergo treatment if they are deemed a danger to themselves and their community. Papen said it’s a version of Kendra’s law in New York.

That measure was named after 32-year-old Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a subway train in 1999 by a man with untreated schizophrenia.

Berry’s comments came days after two Albuquerque officers shot and killed a body-armor wearing man in a shootout.

Police said officers Michael Oates and Matthew Fisher shot and killed John Edward Okeefe, 34, following a foot chase that ended with an exchange of gunfire.

Okeefe previously was arrested for narcotics charges and armed robbery in Missouri, authorities said.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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