(CBS/AP) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Albuquerque police union paid 20 police officers involved in shootings either $300 or $500 over the past two years, which the father of one victim called a bounty, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
Albuquerque Police Association officials told the newspaper the money is meant to cover some expenses for officers who have been involved in "critical incidents" to help them and their families "find a place to have some privacy and time to decompress outside the Albuquerque area."
But the father of a man fatally shot by police last year said the practice sounds like a reward.
"It's unbelievable to find this out," said Mike Gomez, whose son, Alan, was shot by Albuquerque officer Sean Wallace. "This just sounds like a reward system, a bounty. If it's in these cops' minds that they're going to get rewarded if they shoot someone, even if they don't kill them, that's just not good."
Wallace was among those who received $500 in 2011. He also received $500 after a non-fatal shooting in 2010. The statement from Sigala and Garcia said the payments are intended as support for officers.
"We also believe that any claim or assertion that these were somehow cash payments for the officer merely `shooting someone' are absolutely ridiculous and false," the statement says. "We hold onto the honor and dignity of our profession and would never engage in such callous and hurtful behavior."
Police Association President Joey Sigala and Vice President Felipe Garcia declined to be interviewed, and their statement did not say whether union officials offer the payments or whether officers have to ask for them.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said he was unaware of the practice.
The union represents officers in a department under fire for a rash of fatal police shootings. Albuquerque police have been involved in 23 police shootings since January 2010. Eighteen of those were fatal, including two this week.
Critics have blamed the escalation in shootings that began in 2010 on what they said is a long-standing culture that condones police brutality. In addition to the shootings, the department came under scrutiny last year for comments made by officers on social media. For example, one of the officers involved in a fatal shooting described his occupation on Facebook as "human waste disposal." Another said on MySpace that "Some people are alive only because killing them is illegal."
The shootings have prompted calls from activists and the City Council for a U.S. Department of Justice review. They have also spurred changes in hiring and training practices at the police department.
Prior to 2010, the city's historical average for officer-involved shootings was five or a six a year, officials have said.
The DOJ last year began an initial probe to determine if a civil rights investigation is warranted.