By Russell Contreras
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Demonstrators protesting a series of Albuquerque police shootings say they clashed Wednesday with workers of a hotel where the police chief told a group of business leaders that he took the job to reform the department that's been criticized by the federal government for its use of force.
Around two dozen demonstrators picketed outside Hotel Albuquerque to demand Chief Gorden Eden's resignation and to call for immediate reforms within the Police Department as the city negotiates a deal with the U.S. Justice Department following a scathing report over officers' use of force.
According to protesters, a member of the hotel staff pushed one demonstrator and knocked the cellphone out of a hand of another. Demonstrators said they took photos of the altercation and planned to post them on social media.
In a statement, Hotel Albuquerque says it has no problem with demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights.
"In this particular incident, our employee went out to remind the protesters that the parking lot was for hotel guests only," the statement said. "We understand there was a confrontation and we are currently investigating the situation."
Meanwhile, inside the hotel, Eden received a warm response from the Economic Forum of Albuquerque, a nonpartisan group of business leaders, as he recounted his law enforcement career and his broad ideas for making changes to the Albuquerque Police Department.
"I told my command staff, 'If you aren't committed to working with the Department of Justice, if you aren't committed to implementing reforms, you can retire,'" said Eden, who took the job just four months ago.
The speech came protests continue to be staged around the city, sometimes stalling city business and forcing authorities to cancel events. Forty police shootings since 2010 have stirred outrage and led to the Justice Department investigation. A possible agreement with the federal agency might include an independent monitoring board and required changes to training.
Eden said the department also is changing the way it recruits cadets and officers, comparing previous recruiting efforts to "looking for love in all the wrong places." He said a company is helping identify candidates, who will be assigned mentors.
But the police chief acknowledged making a few mistakes of his own.
On Monday, Eden sent a text message forbidding his employees from meeting with the Justice Department without his permission, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Eden called that move "not the most effective" way to communicate and said he just wanted such meetings to include police leadership and the city's special counsel.
Mayor Richard Berry will announce new initiatives later this week on ways residents can get involved in helping change the police force, the chief said.
"I'm very excited about the things that are going to happen in the next 30 to 45 days," Eden said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press