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‘This is a long-haul fight.’ Momentum builds for police reform after meeting

Justin Garcia
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – What police reform in Las Cruces could look like remains uncertain.

But the conversation was started after a group of concerned citizens and activists came together Wednesday for a renewed push at reforming the policies and procedures of the Las Cruces Police Department.

The meeting was hosted by New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé, or NM CAFé, and featured between 30 and 40 participants, including Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart and President of the Doña Ana Branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People Dr. Bobbie Green.

“I want to make this clear, these are the first steps,” NM CAFé Community Organizer Daniel Sanchez told the crowd. “This is a long-haul fight.”

The meeting comes over a month after a Las Cruces Police Department officer killed 75-year-old Amelia Baca. Additionally, Doña Ana County sheriff’s deputies killed Carlos Gamboa, 57, after a brief standoff on May 21.

In both cases, Baca and Gamboa were in the throes of a mental health crisis and wielded weapons. Baca threatened to hurt her daughter, according to the daughter’s statements to police, while Gamboa fired his shotgun once at a deputy, according to the sheriff.

Sanchez said that the point of the meeting was to garner the public’s ideas and build consent about ways to create incremental change in the community. Sanchez emphasized that incremental change was the goal, not radical transformation.

The crowd seemed to agree. The group broke out into small batches for about an hour before reemerging as one and presenting dozens of ideas including:

Creating a police oversight board
Finding ways to increase transparency and accountability
Building institutions that foster community and police collaboration

After the meeting, Stewart said the gathered community was not far off on many issues. However, she said that she felt the meeting was in need of expertise, specifically that of a police officer.

“It would just be helpful to have some of those facts,” Stewart said. “When I was listening to them talk, I was thinking, ‘Oh, gee, if they just knew this piece, then they could see how all of this fits.”

When asked by the Sun-News if Stewart would consider being that expert voice, she said she would not. Instead, it was more important for someone from LCPD to take that role, Stewart said.

“I kind of like to stay out of it,” she said. “Someone from their (LCPD) community policing teams would be perfect.”

Green shared Stewart’s sentiment that LCPD and the City of Las Cruces should play a role in future discussions.

“I would also like to have seen some of the city leaders and decision-makers here just to hear what we were talking about,” Green said. “Not necessarily to weigh in or anything like that, but just to hear our concerns.”

No one from the City of Las Cruces or LCPD was present at the meeting, despite the meeting occurring at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, located between City Hall and LCPD headquarters.

As the meeting closed, Sanchez pressed the crowd into joining another meeting in the future. While the date of that meeting has not been scheduled, Sanchez said he was optimistic about the future after the first meeting concluded.

“Police reform is important to a lot of demographics and a diverse group of citizens,” Sanchez said. “There’s not a magic solution that’s going to fix everything. If we make small incremental adjustments and changes, we can see progress.

Justin Garcia is public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be contacted at JEGarcia@lcsun-news.com.