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The independent Albuquerque police monitor told a federal judge that a group of high-ranking officers within the department is trying to thwart reform efforts, and because they are part of the police union they remain in their positions.
Chief Michael Geier said he has also noticed some “old-school resistance” to reforms. But he said he replaced certain commanders with others who agree with police reforms, so matters should improve.
Monitor James Ginger’s and Geier’s comments were made earlier this month during a telephonic status conference before U.S. District Judge Robert Brack, who is presiding over the reforms underway at the Albuquerque Police Department.
Ginger said he referred to the group of officers as the “counter-CASA effect.” CASA stands for the Court Approved Settlement Agreement between the city and the Department of Justice, which outlines a series of reforms that APD has agreed to make in response to a DOJ investigation, which found police had a pattern of excessive force.
Ginger described the group’s attitude as “certainly ambivalent” to the reform effort.
“The ones I’m speaking of are in critical areas and that ambivalence, alone, will give rise to exactly the sort of issues that we’ve seen in the past at the training academy,” Ginger said. “So while it’s not overt, you know, there’s nobody sabotaging computer files or that sort of thing, it’s a sort of a low-level processing, but nonetheless, it has an effect.”
According to a transcript of the Sept. 10 conference call, Ginger said the sergeants and lieutenants in the group are part of the police union, so they still have important positions with the police department that are protected as a condition of their collective bargaining agreement between police and the city.
“It’s a small group, but it’s a widespread collection of sworn personnel at sergeant’s and lieutenant’s levels with civil service protection that appear to be, based on my knowledge and experience, not completely committed to this process,” Ginger said.
Officer Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque police union, said all Albuquerque police officers throughout the ranks have bought into the reform effort and that it would be “ludicrous” to think some sergeants and lieutenants are trying to stop the process.
“It gets to a point of being so frustrating that it’s almost comical. … It makes it sound like there’s an insurgency,” he said. “Officers have done so much work (at reforms). They have done the heavy lifting.”
Willoughby said sergeants and lieutenants who weren’t following APD policies and complying with reforms would be sent to internal affairs and disciplined.
Though he was critical of some police officers, Ginger during the conference call spoke favorably about other aspects of the department.
He credited officers for creating a Compliance Bureau and said he’s noticed improvements with the police training academy.
Geier said he’s made changes to several commander positions, which over time will ensure that the entire chain of command is buying into the “new APD.”
“We’ve recognized from day one that culture change is an important part of APD reform. That’s why Chief Geier demoted or replaced supervisors who failed to make progress,” Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said in an email. “We’re getting resistance on some of the other changes related to use of force we want to implement because of the collective bargaining agreement, so we’re taking those issues to arbitration. In the meantime, we’re continuing to work with the Department, with support and input from Dr. Ginger, the Department of Justice and the community, to continue to change the culture at APD.”
As an example, Geier said he hired Angela Byrd, who was the chief of Bosque Farms police, to be the commander overseeing the training academy. John Sullivan had been the commander over the academy until he retired.
“It is something that is deep-seated and it’s a little harder to find a quick fix or solution to it, but I think, in the long term, by having this foundation with new leadership and a new direction from the top down, we should be able to get through this and survive it,” Geier told Brack during the phone call.