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APD Expands Shield Unit to Prepare Cases for Prosecution

Civilian Specialists Allow Cops to Spend More Time on Patrol.

June 6, 2019

The Albuquerque Police Department expanded an innovative program, called the Shield Unit, which is preparing thousands of criminal cases for prosecution. The work by civilian specialists in the Shield Unit has freed up police officers to spend more time on patrol.

APD created the Shield Unit as an experiment in November 2017 to meet immediate challenges at the District Attorney’s Office to clear a backlog of cases. APD initially hired three paralegals as temporary employees to pull together evidence, records and discovery for the top 300 offenders in the DA’s backlog of cases.

The city budget signed this week by Mayor Tim Keller includes 12 fully funded positions for the Shield Unit.

  • In 2018, the unit provided discovery on 2,871 felony cases.
  • This year, the unit has already provided discovery on 2,787 felony cases.
  • Discovery is expected for about 6,000 cases by the end of the year.

“Putting more resources into communities has been a priority of my administration since the first day I took office,” Mayor Keller said. “We recognized the paralysis that resulted from poor relationships between APD and other institutions that play pivotal roles in the justice system. Rather than place blame, we got busy and worked with APD to come up with innovative solutions like the Shield Unit that enables us to attack crime from all sides.”

“Hiring civilian specialists to do this work pays off in two ways,” Deputy Chief Harold Medina said. “APD is turning over quality cases to the District Attorney’s Office, which helps lead to indictments and successful prosecutions. Just as important, it frees up our officers to spend more time on patrol and doing community policing, rather than doing administrative work that can take hours for every case.”

The Legislature highlighted the program last year, reporting that APD Shield Unit turned in about 600 completed felony cases for March and April. Of those, 80% were successfully indicted. That was up from 50% before the unit was created.

As the Shield Unit showed early success, APD expanded its mission to handle Felony First Appearance cases, and provide all discovery to the DA’s Office within four days for every request. The unit also provides everything needed for the DA to turn over to the defense in time for preventative detention hearings.

The unit also expanded beyond paralegals to also include employees with other types of civilian law enforcement backgrounds. The unit currently provides discovery for felony arrests and non-arrests for the entire department, except homicide, vehicular homicide, gangs and vice.

In addition to providing police reports, the unit orders and provides the audio from 911 calls and dispatch logs, all reports and dispatch records mentioned in any report, all documents referenced, copies of any photos/CDs/DVDs/USBs which are tagged into evidence, and copies of any items tagged into evidence which can be copied. They often contact businesses for any surveillance video of events, and receipts for damage which occurred.  All of this together provides the DA with a solid case to prosecute.