The Albuquerque police have long been criticized for a high rate of shootings and the increasing militarization of their operations. This month, many have joined in that criticism after the release of a videotape of police shooting a homeless camper, James Boyd, in the foothills outside of the city.
Boyd, 38, has a history of mental illness with episodes of violence. Three officers approached him on March 16th about camping in an unauthorized area. After they woke him, they had a three-hour standoff and Boyd is heard saying that he was “going to walk” with them. However, he then gathers his things and one officer is heard yelling “Do it”. A flash-bang device then exploded at his feet, causing Boyd to drop his bags. The police released a German Shepard and Boyd appears to take something out of this pocket that might be a knife. However, he seems to be looking straight at the dog and he may have been trying to protect himself from the dog. Then he turns away from the officers. He is then shot repeatedly in the back by two different officers. A dog is then released again to be sure that he is not moving. He was later pronounced dead.
I have watched the video below and I fail to see the need for lethal force, though the department cleared all of the officers as justified in the shooting. The release of the dog seems to me the cause for his reaction. Moreover, he was a good distance away when they shoot him with a dog in between them and the suspect. Yet, Police Chief Gorden Eden has insisted that the helmet video below shows that his officers were in danger and had to fire on a “direct threat.” In this message to the public on the police website, Eden proclaims “We are proud of the way in which we interact with the community in our continuing collaborative problem solving efforts.” This is not a particularly good example of problem solving for most of us who watch the video.
Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department has been involved in 37 shootings — resulting in 23 deaths. Critics has said that the city police have shot more people than the NYPD during the same period did in New York despite the fact that New York is 16 times larger than Albuquerque.
I think if it commendable that police waited so long in speaking with Boyd who does have a violent history. It is that patience that makes the ultimate throwing of the flash grenade and the shooting so odd. There seems to be a rapid escalation of force by the police that is not explained by what we are seeing on the videotape. After all, this is a case of someone sleeping in a non-camping area — not the execution of an arrest warrant for a violent offender or some other high-risk operation. Clearly, there is always a risk in approaching a homeless person with both mental illness and prior violence. However, I do not see how the shooting is justified based on this videotape alone.
What do you think?