According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, New Mexico stands only behind Wyoming in the rate of police killings per capita. The nonprofit project says that police in New Mexico killed 32 people last year. The projects record all instances where an on- or off-duty police officer used lethal force on a civilian. It does not differentiate between killings that were found to be justified and those that were not.
The per capita rate of police killings is even higher among Black residents of New Mexico. Although African-Americans make up only 2.7% of our population, they are almost four times as likely than white people to be killed by police.
Some blame ‘gun culture’ for the lethality of our police
Are police in New Mexico facing more guns than police in other states?
According to a recent NPR story, experts generally agree that there is a high rate of gun ownership in New Mexico, especially in rural areas. This is hard to measure, but as of2021 there were 122,968 federally registered firearms in New Mexico. Another estimate said about 46% of New Mexicans have at least one gun at home. As far as overall gun ownership, New Mexico ranks 21st.
In other words, it is likely that police in New Mexico run into guns slightly more often than the average for all states. That could mean that police find themselves in lethal danger slightly more often in New Mexico. It could also mean that police in New Mexico perceive that they are in danger more often.
Others suggest police culture and training are the problem
A University of New Mexico law professor interviewed by NPR suggested that the state’s relatively high gun ownership rate ought to prompt more de-escalation training.
It’s a fair point. Also, the fact that we have a “hodgepodge” of use-of-force policies throughout the state could contribute to the problem, as a spokesperson for the New Mexico ACLU pointed out.
“We know that commonsense policies like requiring de-escalation and a high standard for when to use force keep all of us safer,” the spokesperson added.
Some of those reforms are mandated by the Justice Department, but just in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque PD has been bound by a civil rights consent decree for almost a decade. The Justice Department said the department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force, which is unconstitutional.
But police in New Mexico killed 32 people last year and only 10 of them were in Albuquerque. That may indicate that other departments engage in unconstitutional policing practices, as well.