ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A day after a protest over Albuquerque police shootings devolved into violence, the city's new police chief on Monday commended officers for showing restraint and said he is about to unveil reforms that include changes to the embattled department's recruiting process.
Chief Gorden Eden spoke to reporters after more than 300 people took to the streets Sunday, calling for him and other city officials to resign. The protest turned violent that evening, when people began hunting down officers, throwing rocks and bottles, and spitting on officers, he said.
The chief says officials decided to disperse the crowd with tear gas after a man pulled out an AK-47, others blocked traffic by lying down on Interstate 25 and unruly crowds trapped people and officers in cars. Protesters also started attacking each other, impeded emergency crews and blocked the entrance to a hospital.
There was only one minor injury, an officer who hurt his knee, Eden said. Four protesters were arrested during the 12-hour demonstration.
Justin Elder, 24, followed the protest as a passenger in a car and held a sign that read, "APD: Dressed To Kill."
"That's what this police force is about," Elder said.
Sunday's protest and another last week were in response to the 37 shootings Albuquerque police have been involved in since 2010, 23 of them fatal, including the recent case of a homeless camper killed after he appeared to be surrendering. By comparison, police in the similarly sized cities of Denver and Oakland have been involved in fatal and non-fatal shootings totaling 27 and 23, respectively.
The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the Albuquerque department for more than a year, looking into complaints of civil rights violations and allegations of excessive use of force.
Eden, who has been on the job for a month, says he is working on reforming the department's recruiting process. He says a "new recruiting philosophy" will be announced by early next week. An independent review of the department's shootings nearly two years ago cited issues with officers being unable to de-escalate situations. It called for better screening to find candidates with problem-solving skills.
Mayor Richard Berry said police have been working to find ways to quell run-ins with suspects and transparency has improved with the use of lapel cameras.