In previous years the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) National Police Shooting Competition included events with names like “Head Shots Only,” in which the event’s course description contends that police officers need to practice shooting directly at people’s heads.
Courses like this are only one of the many reasons why, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, activists and family members of police-perpetrated shootings victims call the annual Shooting Competition the “killer cop contest.”
The competition is set to begin September 15 at Shooting Range Park in Albuquerque. The contest brings together more than 500 officers from various law enforcement agencies across the country to judge who’s best at using lethal weapons. A similar regional shooting competition has already begun.
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The NRA’s law enforcement division has organized the Shooting Competition annually since its first in Iowa in 1962, actively reaching out to officers and inviting them to the contest. Law enforcement officers from as far away as Germany and Venezuela have previously attended, according to NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide.
Longtime organizers against police violence in Albuquerque who have attended previous tournaments describe the competition as a celebration of the heavily militarized policing tactics and practices that have been at the center of a national firestorm in the aftermath of the militant police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown.
“These are events that celebrate the efficiency in coordinated use of lethal force, using high-powered military weaponry,” said David Correia, a University of New Mexico American studies professor and local organizer. “This is not some sort of municipal police conference…. If it were just about municipal policing, it wouldn’t just be about the use of high-powered weaponry; there would also be events about community policing or ways for officers to show their proficiency in community engagement.”
Dalseide told Truthout the events have been held in Albuquerque since 2007. The NRA’s Dalseide said the competition will also include “armory schools” in which arms manufacturers send gunsmiths to teach officers how to maintain their weapons.
Dalseide said he was not authorized to answer Truthout’s inquiries about the NRA’s decision to continue to host the conference in spite of a national outcry over police violence, deferring to the NRA’s policy and legislative public relations staffers, who have not responded to Truthout’s request for comment.
The Shooting Competition begins this weekend, September 13 and 14, and includes events designed for both individuals and teams, in which officers compete on obstacle courses modeled after “a hypothetical law enforcement encounter,” according to the NRA’s description of the competition.
One shooting game called “Drunk Buddies” runs officers through a scenario where they attempt to arrest a drunken man for public intoxication when the man’s friends approaches, yelling “police brutality!” The officer just decides he will use pepper spray on the group when the drunken men charge while waiving knives and yelling, “kill the cops!” Another course, “Accurate, Fast & Fun” challenges officers to kill as many “targets” as possible while firing from unusual positions in the shortest amount of time.
In another imaginary scenario, officers are at home when intruders suddenly break in. When a “start signal” is given, the officers retrieve their handguns, load them and “engage Threat Targets.” This scenario is not unlike what many civilians undergo after local police departments execute routine no-knock raids, many of which have resulted in police shooting civilians who believed they were being robbed.
Police accountability activists and family members of police-perpetrated shooting victims in Albuquerque plan to protest the weekend’s events by holding a rally in the parking lot of Shooting Range Park and dropping banners inside the upscale hotels where the officers attending the games will be staying.
The activists have created a banner depicting the mock image of the typical silhouetted target that officers shoot at during the contest — only the target is James Boyd, who was brutally shot by Albuquerque officers in the Sandia foothills, sparking a series of protests.
The NRA lists the New Mexico Police Pistol Combat Association and Albuquerque Police Department (APD) as hosts of the Shooting Competition. Current and former Albuquerque officers and commanders will compete in this year’s shooting games along with officers from around the country, according to a roster of registered entrants.
Albuquerque officers have shot 37 people since 2010, more people per capita than the New York Police Department. They will be joined by representatives from various law enforcement agencies across the United States, including from the FBI and from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The roster includes names of officers and former officers such as Sean Wallace, who have been named in a lawsuits alleging excessive use of force. Wallace pulled over and beat a man without probable cause in 2003, resulting in an excessive force suit. Wallace subsequently shot and killed Leo Lopez in 2004, shot and wounded Wayne Cordova in 2010, and shot and killed Alan Gomez in 2011. The roster includes names of other controversial figures, such as former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Gomez’s father, Michael Gomez, plans to be at this weekend’s protests at Shooting Range Park and has delivered a letter to Mayor Richard Berry demanding cancellation of the shooting games.
Family members of police shootings victims like Gomez are outraged that Albuquerque city leaders continue to embrace the annual competition even after the Justice Department released a scathing report earlier this year which found the APD engages in a systematic pattern or practice of excessive use of force.
According to Correia, out of the 76 contenders who competed in the Shooting Competition last year, more than a third represented law enforcement agencies under investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for systematic violations of citizen’s civil and constitutional rights, often through institutionalized excessive use of force.
Janet Blair, a spokeswoman for the APD released the following statement from Mayor Berry to Truthout:
The City of Albuquerque hosts and welcomes numerous events per year, including the shooting championships. We welcome the opportunity to host law enforcement professionals from around the world here in our beautiful city, and we thank them for their commitment and service at the local, state and federal levels to keeping our communities and nation safe.
However, Breanna Anderson, spokeswoman for Mayor Berry told Truthout, “We will not be able to accommodate your media requests” in a text message.
“[City leaders] are either one of two things: They are either completely tone-deaf to what their reaction or lack of reaction has been to the spate of killings in Albuquerque, or they don’t care,” activist Correia told Truthout. “I think the more likely answer is really that they don’t care. They honestly don’t see what’s been happening in Albuquerque as a problem.”
According to APD Spokeswoman Blair, the APD hosts regional shootings games as part of a contract with the NRA.