Police began receiving crisis intervention training on Monday, a month after a homeless camper was shot and killed by Albuquerque officers, generating protests around the city.
The first training class includes 35 officers, with the eventual goal of having 100 percent certification within 18 months. At this point, only about a quarter of the agency's officers have been trained in crisis intervention practices during their careers.
The training began as the U.S. Justice Department started a series of community meetings on its findings that the Albuquerque Police Department engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
The first meeting was held Monday evening at Alamosa Community Center, and two more were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. The meetings are a chance for Justice Department officials to gather insights and recommendations on how APD should be reformed, the federal agency said.
About 50 people gathered for Monday's meeting and told federal officials they would like to see more accountability among officers and better training aimed at de-escalating potentially violent situations.
Among its findings, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police often used unnecessary excessive force with those struggling with mental illness.
Albuquerque Police Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman has said the department was still reviewing whether crisis-intervention officers need more latitude or control at scenes.
"We're looking at all of our systems and all of our units and all of our policies and procedures, and that is definitely something that we're going to look at," Huntsman said. "What we want to see happen is that the first officer to show up on a call with somebody in crisis or with mental illness is equipped to deal with that from start to finish."
Officers will receive scenario-based training and be shown a variety of options on how to deal with suspects experiencing mental illness. Actors will play the roles of people in crisis, from someone who's contemplating suicide to a potential jumper, for example.
Tension over the police department's use of force escalated last month after police shot and killed homeless camper James Boyd in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains during a standoff.
Video from an officer's helmet camera showed two officers fired on Boyd, 38, as he appeared to be preparing to surrender. Just over a week later, police shot and killed Alfred Redwine, 30, after a standoff.
Police said Boyd had threatened to kill officers and held onto knives as an unarmed K-9 officer approached him.
Albuquerque police have shot more than three dozen people since 2010.