Police In New Mexico Are Killing Citizens In Record Numbers

The number of civilians killed by law enforcement per capita is highest in New Mexico, and some attribute this sobering statistic to the state's high rate of gun ownership.

By Brian Scheid | Published

police new mexico

“To protect and Serve,” is the motto of most law enforcement agencies across our great nation. However, in the state of New Mexico, troubling data has emerged that paints the state as a killing field of citizens at the hands of the law enforcement that is there to protect them. It’s a state in which the number of citizens that have been killed by police officers using deadly force per capita is the highest in the nation and people are outraged by the law enforcement’s propensity to shoot first and ask questions later mantra.    

You don’t have to look any further than an incident that occurred last week in the town of Farmington, New Mexico. Robert Dotson woke up that day not realizing that it would be his last day on earth. Police had received a call about a potential domestic violence situation that was in progress, which is the most dangerous type of call that police officers face on a daily basis, and they have the tendency to escalate quickly.

Police mistakenly arrived at the wrong address than the one that was reported by the concerned citizen that contacted the police. They arrived at Robert Dotson’s house instead and they approached his front door and knocked. When Robert opened the door, the police immediately saw that he was carrying a handgun on his hip. The police drew their weapons, and Mr. Dotson reached for his legally licensed firearm, then the police opened fire, killing him right there in the doorway of his home.

The incident was such a confusing scene that Robert’s wife who heard the gunshots and saw her husband lying dead on the floor came out of the front door with a handgun returning fire at the people who just killed her husband.  She immediately ceased fire when she realized it was the police she was shooting at. This is a senseless tragedy and could have easily been circumvented had it been handled by law enforcement by looking to de-escalate first rather than moving to the decision to use deadly force so quickly.

An investigation on whether the shooting was justified is currently underway, but this is one example of police using deadly force and costing a New Mexico resident their life.  According to NPR citing data from MappingPeopleViolence.org, “Last year, 32 people — around 15 people per million — were killed by police in the state.” This data reflects any incident in which a law enforcement agent either on or off duty applies lethal force resulting in a citizen being killed whether the shooting was considered justified or not. 

Critics of the number of law enforcement lethal force used in the state point to the state’s gun culture as the primary driver behind the higher number of citizen deaths per capita. In New Mexico, there are 122,968 legally registered firearms, equivalent to 46 percent of the adult population armed with a gun. That is a big problem for law enforcement officials as they are keenly aware that when they are called to go to any situation there is a one in two chance that the adult they will encounter could be armed, which immediately puts the officer on edge.

The second biggest contributing factor is that state law officers do not receive adequate de-escalation training to assist them in dealing with situations that could potentially turn violent. A few years ago, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department for its pattern of using excessive force. They reached an agreement with the city that officers would undergo improved training, and the DOJ would be keeping tabs on the department’s progress.

The state has obviously been aware for a while that they have an issue with the use of lethal or excessive force and yet the trend in the state has continued. An even scarier concern is for the black residents, that make up 2.7 percent of the state’s population, and are, on average, four times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white resident. This disparity is a concern for the ACLU and other minority rights groups as we have seen that black citizens across our nation are at a much greater risk of police use of excessive or lethal force than white citizens.

The State of New Mexico legislators struck down a bill in their state congress last year that primarily was written to address the state’s issues with using lethal force by law enforcement. These legislators are failing the citizens of their state because some action needs to be taken, and leaving a legislative session without a solution is not an option. We will have to see if enhanced training will curb the trend for the time being, but what is certain is something needs to change to bring New Mexico citizens piece of mind regarding their safety when it comes to interacting with their state’s law enforcement officers.