ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — The chief of the embattled Albuquerque Police Department has ordered his officers to stop arresting people for certain nonviolent misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana, prostitution and shoplifting less than $500 worth of goods.
Police Chief Gorden Eden Jr.’s order comes as part of a settlement agreement in a 22-year-old class action filed against the city and its jail. The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, built to hold no more than 2,236 inmates, has held as many as 3,000, leading to poor hygiene, dangerous overcrowding, mingling of violent and nonviolent offenders, and a culture of abuse among both staff and prisoners, according to the 110-page federal class action filed in January 1995.
The lawsuit described the dangerous conditions brought about by overcrowding, including two and sometimes three prisoners sharing six-by-nine-foot, a protective custody unit built for 25 but holding up to 51 mentally impaired detainees, and lack of hygiene, sufficient food, and medical care.
Albuquerque reached a settlement in 2015, which was approved in March 2016, and stipulated, among other things, that the jail hold no more than 1,950 prisoners at a time, deemed to be its maximum functional capacity.
Police Chief Eden’s new order, of May 10, states that officers should issue citations in lieu of arrests for some misdemeanors, if there is nothing about the situation that necessitates arrest.
Offenses such as prostitution, patronizing a prostitute, receiving stolen property worth less than $100, possession of less than 8 ounces of marijuana or of drug paraphernalia, and indecent exposure are to be met with a citation instead of arrest.
Also, when officers arrest suspects for minor offenses such as non-DUI traffic charges and petty misdemeanors, they will offer the option of bonding out immediately rather than being booked into the detention center.
But the police chief said officers may still make arrests when the situation warrants.
“This order in no way restricts officers’ discretion to make arrests when necessary to protect the public,” the police department said in a statement. “Citations have always been an available option for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.”