The apparently pleased federal judge overseeing the Albuquerque police reform project said the city’s recent progress has left him “trying to catch my breath.”
James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing the reform effort, said during a recent status conference with U.S. District Judge Robert Brack that Ginger and the monitoring team have noticed a significant improvement in how Albuquerque police are approaching the reform project since a new city and police administration took over in December 2017.
“APD is on the right path,” Ginger said, according to a transcript of the conference. “As a monitoring team, we’re fairly comfortable with the progress that they’re making.”
Statistics the team uses to track progress show that police have achieved 99.6 percent compliance with primary tasks, 75.4 secondary compliance and 59.5 percent operational compliance. It’s the first time they’ve achieved above 50 percent operational compliance, Ginger said.
To complete the reform case, Albuquerque police have to reach and maintain 95 percent compliance in all three categories.
Ginger said those statistics will be in his next monitoring report, which is due out next month. Some adjustments could still be made as it is currently only a draft, he said.
“Just about everywhere the monitoring team looks, we see significant effort,” he said.
The reform effort overseen by Brack is outlined in a settlement agreement that was reached between the city and the DOJ in 2014. The agreement aims to address a pattern of excessive force with the police department. Ginger periodically writes reports to update Brack on the progress police are making.
“And if the (new) report bears all that out … I think somebody in marketing ought to get a hold of it and share it with the public,” Brack said during the status conference. “This sounds great.”
Brack in July 2016, during a public hearing in the Ceremonial Courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque, called for a “topping out ceremony” crediting police with writing many of the policies they needed to. He had tables in the courtroom pushed together and city, Department of Justice and other officials shared barbecue to honor the achievement.
The mood was positive even though police achieved operational compliance with less than 5 percent of the needed reforms at that point.
But by November 2017, the mood was no longer festive. Brack during a public hearing admonished the police and city after it became known that the city had been secretly recording its meetings with Ginger and tried to have him removed from the case. Brack blasted the city’s tactics and said they came “dangerously close to obstruction.” He said the city needed to “hit the reset button.”
Ginger in his presentation for Brack this week singled out Albuquerque police’s Compliance Bureau, which oversees the reform effort. He called that group’s work “cutting edge” and “visionary.”
He also credited the work police have done with clearing a backlog of use-of-force investigations that had been pending and improvements that police have made in their training academy.
Ginger also gave the police credit for work they’ve done to address high automobile theft rates in the city. Since taking over in late 2017, police officials have emphasized traffic stops and other enforcement projects aimed at car thieves. Police have said auto thefts dropped 17 percent in the first six months of 2018.
Ginger said that decline is a sign the department is in step with the community.
“Auto theft is one of the major complaints that we hear from residents in Albuquerque,” he said. “So that was really a good sign that, you know, the new administration’s first programmatic change was on a topic that had … of some concern or a great deal of concern to members of the community.”
City and police officials didn’t respond to request for comment this week.
Other items discussed during the status conference include:
• The city said someone alleged in an email that Albuquerque police failed to properly handle, or helped cover up, a traffic accident involving a family member of a city official. The name and additional details about the crash weren’t provided and officials said that the Civilian Police Oversight Agency will investigate the allegation.
• Police also said they will turn over documents produced by an outside firm that was hired to investigate allegations that the commander of internal affairs backdated a police report to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and Police Oversight Board. The city at first argued that the document was subject to attorney-client privilege but has since agreed to turn the document over to civilian oversight officials if they keep the report confidential. The police have released a memo that said former internal affairs Cmdr. Jennifer Garcia was demoted and moved to a different department as a result of that investigation.
• Brack asked City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. to send the judge an email explaining whether the city is violating the settlement agreement by not renewing Ed Harness’ contract. Harness is the executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and his contract is up Oct. 17. The Police Oversight Board, which Harness reports to, has asked that his contract be renewed and he be given a raise. City councilors have not taken any action on his contract and won’t until their meeting in November. City officials told Brack that Harness will continue to serve “minimally” after his contract expires Oct. 17.