ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — With a federal investigation underway, concerns over a string of police shootings had started dying down in recent months and New Mexico's largest city turned toward positive developments.
Tourism got a boost from the much-watched final season of "Breaking Bad," the popular TV series shot in Albuquerque. The University of New Mexico's basketball team won a key championship, and Tesla Motors announced the possibility of an economy-driving factory. And residents hoped a new police chief would turn around an embattled agency.
But everything changed with a standoff that ended in deadly gunfire. Albuquerque police shot a homeless camper in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on March 16, sparking a protest where angry residents hurled rocks, walked onto freeways and hunted down officers.
The unrest led Mayor Richard Berry to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to wrap up its investigation into allegations of excessive use of force and civil rights violations. He also asked the federal agency to help overhaul the police department. New Police Chief Gorden Eden supported the request.
After months of conducting interviews, scouring videos and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, the Justice Department says it's finally ready to release details of its inquiry on Thursday.
The more than yearlong probe follows 37 police shootings by officers since 2010. Albuquerque officials say they expect a federal monitor to be appointed and a number of suggested reforms. The Justice Department can mandate oversight and changes or issue suggestions. Either way, the federal government will negotiate with the city.
But it remains unclear what reforms federal officials will demand — if any. The Justice Department has said it sent some Albuquerque cases to its criminal division but hasn't released details on those cases. The exception is the shooting death of James Boyd, 38, the homeless camper who threatened to kill officers but was gathering his belongings and turning away when police opened fire.
The FBI said it has opened an investigation into the shooting.
If a federal monitor is appointed and the city agrees on terms, Albuquerque would join cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle that are subject to federal oversight.
"Such a plan will help bring about any necessary system improvements and accountability measures," Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry told the Justice Department in a letter last week urging completion of the investigation.
Reforms could cost the city millions of dollars, as they did for police departments in New Orleans and Portland, Ore., that were scrutinized by federal officials.
Despite the criticism, the city has seen another wave of positivity recently. Crime has dropped to 30-year lows in some categories.
"It's hard to admit it, but Albuquerque can be a violent city," said Darren White, a former Albuquerque director of public safety and former Bernalillo County sheriff. "That takes away the focus of all the positive things going on."
For the city's part, Berry said he welcomed the Justice Department's findings and believe Albuquerque needed them "to move on."
"We need to do more, and we need to take action now," he said.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras
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