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article imageNRA 'Killer Cop' competition prompts outcry over police violence

By Megan Hamilton     Sep 14, 2014 in Politics
Albuquerque - Beginning Sept. 15, the National Rifle Association will host its annual National Police Shooting Competition (NPSC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The competition is expected to draw more than 500 police officers from law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The goal of the competition is to judge which officers are the most proficient at using lethal weapons, according to Truthout.
Gun control activists and family members of victims who have been shot by police have dubbed the competition the "Killer Cop" competition, and with events that have names like "Head Shots Only," and "Accurate, Fast, and Fun," it's understandable why they characterize the competition as a celebration of the militarization of police departments. All of this is now front and center in the aftermath of the tragic killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
In the "Head Shots Only" competition, officers practice shooting directly at people's heads, per Truthout. For "Accurate, Fast, and Fun" officers practice killing as many targets as possible in a short amount of time while shooting in unusual positions. They are part of the Tactical Police Competition (TPC) which began on Sept. 13.
The head shot competition trains police officers to perfect their skills at shooting a suspect in th...
The head shot competition trains police officers to perfect their skills at shooting a suspect in the head.
In this exercise  police officers are expected to shoot numerous targets.
In this exercise, police officers are expected to shoot numerous targets.
"These are events that celebrate the efficiency in coordinated use of lethal force, using high-powered military weaponry," David Correia, a professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and a local organizer told Truthout. "This is not some sort of municipal police conference ... if it were just about municipal policing it wouldn't just be about the use of high-powered weaponry; there would also be events about community policy or ways for officers to show their proficiency in community engagement."
Law enforcement officers from as far away as Germany and Venezuela will likely attend, NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said. The NRA's law enforcement division has been organizing the NPSC ever since its first competition in Iowa in 1962, actively encouraging officers to come to the contest, Truthout reports.
The NPSC event has been being held in Albuquerque for the last eight years.
Dalseide claimed that he was not authorized to answer queries by Truthout regarding the NRA’s decision to continue hosting the conference in the face of national protests over police violence and deferred to the NRA’s policy and legislative public relations staffers. They did not respond to requests for comment, per Truthout.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has killed 27 people since 2010, according to an article that Correia wrote for La Jicarita. In the article, he notes that a report by the US Department of Justice has concluded that APD policing practices are routinely unconstitutional and that most of the killings were unjustified.
In fact, in a stunning letter to Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice stated the following:
"Based on our investigation, we have reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Section 14141. Our investigation included a comprehensive review of APD's operations and the City's oversight systems. We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies--including insufficent oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies — contribute to the use of unreasonable force."
Among the DOJ's findings:
• APD engages in a Pattern or Practice of Unconstitutional Use of Deadly Force.
• Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to the officers or others.
• Albuquerque police officers used deadly force on individuals in crisis who posed no threat to anyone but themselves.
• Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.
In 2013, nine members of the APD competed in last year's Tactical Police Challenge. They were joined by officers from several parts of the US, including five officers from the Arizona branch of US Customs and Border Patrol, which the DOJ is currently investigating on allegations of human rights violations in a string of deadly shootings, Correia wrote.
Of the 76 law enforcement officials who competed last year, over one-third worked at agencies currently or recently under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice regarding human rights violations.
Despite the APD's numerous infractions, Berry still welcomes the shooting competition with open arms.
APD spokeswoman Janet Blair released this statement from Berry to Truthout:
"The City of Albuquerque hosts and welcomes numerous events per year, including the shooting championships. We welcome the opportunity to host law enforcement professionals from around the world here in our beautiful city and we thank them for their commitment and service at the local, state and federal levels to keeping our communities and nation safe."
The TPC is organized by APD officers, including Major Tim Gonterman, La Jicarita reports. While on patrol in Sept. 2002, Gonterman and two other APD officers arrested Jerome Hall, a homeless man, on charges of loitering. Gonterman repeatedly Tasered Hall, who was unarmed. He received third-degree burns and lost part of an ear. Hall was awarded $300,000 in 2006 by a federal jury, which found that Gonterman and the other officers used "excessive force."
Another APD officer, Sean Wallace, who has a reputation for violence is also attending the events, per La Jicarita.
As a member of the New Mexico State Police, in 2003, Wallace was named in a lawsuit that alleged he used excessive force. It's alleged that he beat the man after pulling him over without probable cause. The lawsuit was settled for $19,999.
It's also alleged that in Sept. 2004, State Trooper Wallace shot Leo Lopez, who was unarmed, four times in the back, killing him. The man's family filed a lawsuit which was settled for $235,000.
In May 2011, during a SWAT standoff, Wallace shot and killed Alan Gomez, who was unarmed. The city settled a lawsuit in December of 2013 with the Gomez family for $900,000.
Mike Gomez, who is the father of Alan Gomez, is outraged that the city schedules police shooting competitions when there have been so many unjustified police shootings in Albuquerque.
"They need to rename this the 'Killer Cop' competition, because that's what it is. Sean Wallace killed my son, and now instead of being in jail he represents APD in a shooting competition," he told La Jicarita. "That's wrong."
City officials have turned a deaf ear, however.
"[City leaders] are either one of two things: They are either completely tone-deaf to what their reaction or lack of reaction has been to the spate of killings in Albuquerque, or they don't care," Correia said, per Truthout. "I think the more likely answer is really that they don't care. They honestly don't see what's happening in Albuquerque as a problem."
So, for the time being, it looks as if it will be business as usual. Hopefully, there won't be more shootings of unarmed people in the meantime.
More about NRA, National rifle association, killer cop, killer cop competition, Police violence
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