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Oversight panel to allow longer comments

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

The civilian board that reviews complaints against Albuquerque police voted Thursday to change its public comment policy after being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The board moved to increase comments from two minutes to three minutes, and it will now allow public commenters to donate time to fellow members of the public up to nine minutes.

The change was recommended as part of a settlement reached between the Police Oversight Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico after the civil rights organization filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the commission for a disagreement between board members and passionate public commenters during a December meeting.

Commissioner Richard Shine introduced the motion at last month’s meeting, where it was tabled until Thursday.

Shine said he was introducing the motion as a result of the settlement, which paid out $14,000 in tax dollars to each of the suit’s defendants.

Four commissioners voted in favor of the motion, and three, including Shine, voted against it.

Shine did not elaborate near the end of the four-and-a-half-hour meeting Thursday why he did not support the motion.

Commissioner Jennifer Barela said she supported the motion because it allowed the commission to better serve as an intermediary between the police force and the public.

The settlement comes from an ACLU First Amendment lawsuit filed against the Police Oversight Commission in April. The lawsuit was based on a December exchange between a commissioner and an activist who was concerned about a potential conflict of interest for then-POC chairwoman Linda Martinez.

Shine, at the meeting, said that activists couldn’t speak about the conflict of interest because the commission had already voted unanimously that none existed.

“You do not have an unlimited right to come up and speak about anything you want, and say anything you want during public comment,” Shine sternly told the dozen-member audience at the December meeting.

One activist, Andres Valdez, was then removed from the meeting. He has a separate lawsuit from the April confrontation that is in its beginning stages in federal court.

As a result of the settlement, Shine was ordered to introduce the newly ratified reforms to the commission’s public comment process.

Apart from the settlement, the commission also voluntarily agreed to implement a few new changes to the police oversight process, including:

• Allowing the public to discuss any agenda issue during the public comments period;

• Permitting the public to use police officers’ names when discussing complaints; and

• Validating parking for citizens who wish to speak during the public comments period.

The commission is tasked with reviewing civilian complaints against Albuquerque police officers and police shootings. The ACLU lawsuit and other criticisms of the police oversight process sparked the creation of a task force that is accepting ideas for reform at public meetings, three of which are scheduled for the rest of October.

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