Albuquerque can expect more changes in the way police officers do business even before negotiations with the Department of Justice produce a formal reform agenda, Mayor Richard Berry said in an interview Friday.
A city consultant, meanwhile, said during the interview that it’s common for community frustration to continue to build at this time, especially with additional fatal shootings and the slow pace of the negotiations.
But civil rights lawyer Scott Greenwood, who will represent the city in negotiations with the Justice Department, stressed they are working with “fierce urgency” to develop a sustainable solution that goes beyond what was in the DOJ’s highly critical findings on APD.
One area Berry singled out for near-term change was in APD’s lapel camera protocol. The Department of Justice, in its April 10 report on the findings of a comprehensive investigation into the use of force by police officers, said that the department’s implementation of the technology has been “highly inconsistent.”
The mayor said the city and APD officers have conducted community meetings since the Department of Justice concluded that APD officers systematically used excessive force and had failures in training, accountability, and other department policies and practices. As a result of the report’s findings, the community meetings and talking to the DOJ, Berry said the city has identified a number of reforms APD can implement right away.
“People should expect more of these policy changes,” Berry said, adding that the city doesn’t want to go too far before getting more federal feedback. “… We don’t want to implement anything that will be counteracted by the formal agreement.”
One such policy change was announced Thursday and drew sharp opposition from the Albuquerque police officers union. The policy will prohibit officers from using their personal weapons while on duty, a practice the DOJ said contributed to the department’s “aggressive culture.”
Another change that followed the DOJ findings relates to officers shooting at vehicles, a practice that both the DOJ and a police thinktank said was unnecessarily dangerous. Last month, APD prohibited shooting at moving vehicles to disable them.
Berry wasn’t specific about what the new lapel camera procedures would be or when they would go into effect.
So far, there has been no video available in the recent shooting of a young Albuquerque woman who had been suspected of stealing a pickup truck.
Police have sent the officer’s lapel camera to the manufacturer and haven’t said whether he turned it on. It is unclear what discipline officers could face if they don’t turn on their cameras as they are supposed to.
Amid the changes and community outreach, two people, including a 19-year-old woman, have been shot and killed by Albuquerque police since the findings were released. That brings the total to four fatal shooting by police since March 16. The continued police shootings have added fuel to community protests, including one that boiled over Monday during the City Council meeting with an attempted “citizen’s arrest” of APD chief Gorden Eden.
City-hired consultants Tom Streicher, a former Cincinnati police chief, and Greenwood said it is also not unusual for police shootings to continue after the DOJ issues its findings. But they said the types of reforms being put into place now – before the final agreement – can help reassure community critics and reduce deadly-force encounters.
Greenwood and Streicher became consultants for cities in Albuquerque’s position after they worked to implement DOJ reforms at the Cincinnati Police Department about 10 years ago.
Greenwood, who attended the meetings, said one of APD’s biggest challenges is rebuilding community trust, a component of reforming APD that the consultants said is much more complicated than policy tweaks and new training for officers.
“Police-community relations isn’t just about the eventual agreement or technical reforms to policies and procedures,” he said. “It’s about transforming the relationship between (police) and the city of Albuquerque. It’s harder and it’s more important.”