Bill targets domestic violence offenders in police ranks

By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican

A person convicted of domestic violence couldn’t be certified as a law-enforcement officer for three years, and officers convicted of such a charge would lose their certification under a bill introduced Wednesday.

House Bill 17, sponsored by Rep. Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces, is being pushed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

A federal law currently doesn’t allow anyone convicted of domestic violence — including police officers — to carry firearms.

While law-enforcement organizations haven’t expressed outright opposition to the bill, a former state police officer who works as a lobbyist for municipal police chiefs in the state said Wednesday that some details might cause concerns.

“We don’t have a problem with getting rid of officers who beat the heck out of their wives,” Mike Bowen said.

But Bowen said in previous years when similar bills have been considered, the problem has been with what constitutes domestic violence. It’s possible to be convicted for just raising your voice at your spouse, Bowen said.

If officers could lose their jobs over yelling at their spouses, police would have a problem with it, Bowen said.

Cote said Wednesday that decertifying officers for raising their voices isn’t the purpose of his bill.

“Basically we’re expanding the federal law to include all members of a household,” he said.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, a retired police officer, said Wednesday that while he hasn’t read this year’s version of Cote’s bill, he has no problem with the idea.

“I just wonder if it’s really necessary,” he said.

The issue has been discussed for years in law-enforcement circles. A 2003 discussion paper by the International Association of Chiefs of Police said, “We recognize that the law enforcement profession is not immune from having members commit domestic violence against their intimate partners. The rate of domestic violence is estimated to be at least as common as that of the general population and limited research to date indicates the possibility of higher incidence of domestic violence among law enforcement professionals.”

Currently, Rehm said, officers convicted of domestic violence are assigned to desk jobs because they aren’t allowed to carry guns under the federal law.

In last year’s 60-day session, Cote’s bill passed the House unanimously. However, the bill stalled in the Senate, where it was one of several bills on the agenda when the session ended.

Richardson included in his first “executive message” to the House a bill prohibiting domestic violence offenders from becoming law-enforcement officers within three years of a violation and calling for officers to lose certification for committing a domestic violence offense. In order for a nonfinancial issue to be heard in a 30-day “budget session” of the Legislature, the governor must send a message calling for it.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com