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Report: ‘Exceptional results’ for APD reform

What a difference a year makes.

The independent monitor overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department reform effort gave the current administration positive remarks in his latest report on the department’s compliance with a settlement agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

James Ginger said in his report that the city is in a far different position in the reform project than it was a year ago, when a different police administration and mayor were in control and the city secretly was recording contentious meetings between police officials and Ginger in an effort to have him removed from case.

“Given the scope and nature of issues confronted by APD at this time last year, these results are exceptional,” Ginger wrote in a summary of the court filing.

A public hearing on the latest report is scheduled for next month in front of U.S. District Judge Robert Brack, who is presiding over the reform project, which was launched in November 2014.

James Ginger

James Ginger

“The compliance efforts we have observed during this reporting period differ substantively from those we had observed earlier in the monitoring process,” Ginger wrote in his eighth report on the department’s progress, which was filed in federal court Friday afternoon.

In the report, Ginger said police are in “Operational Compliance” with the settlement agreement 59.2 percent of the time. That means officers follow policies outlined in the settlement agreement and, when they don’t, supervisors identify and correct that behavior.

Mayor Tim Keller said he was pleased with how Ginger described the attitude of police administration.

“I think all parties have a different approach since we came into office,” Keller said in an interview. “We started really in a hole. We came from a place of mistrust and frustration among all parties. That’s not really measurable, but the fact that we’re not in that place now was one of the goals we wanted to accomplish.”

Keller said a significant part of the most recent report is that Ginger acknowledged the city, DOJ, police union and monitoring team have agreed to a new use-of-force policy.

“One of the biggest issues and toughest nuts to crack in any compliance effort in any city … is always around use of force,” Keller said. “I think the biggest victory for Albuquerque has been that we’ve able to come together on a use-of-force policy.”

Albuquerque is one of about two dozen law enforcement agencies throughout the country operating under a consent decree brought on by DOJ investigations that found systemic problems with law enforcement agencies. In Albuquerque’s case, the reforms aim to correct a pattern of excessive force and a culture of aggression.

Ginger did note in the report filed Friday that there are several “persistent or evolving problem areas.”

He said there are still issues with identifying, assessing and taking action on officers who violate policies within the 90-day time frame created in the contract between the police union and the city, and there has been an “uptick” in “prohibited practice” complaints filed by the police union.

Ginger also said APD still needs to create a strong “self-auditing” system, and he raised concerns about police using “Additional Concern Memos” to resolve policy violation issues.

Shaun Willoughby, the president of the police union, said he was “surprised” to find that Ginger was critical of the officers’ union.

He said the complaints mentioned in Ginger’s report are standard when the union believes the police administration violated either the contract between the police union and the city or the city’s own labor rules.

“There is no relevance in the (settlement agreement) as it relates to our prohibited practice complaints,” Willoughby said. “It’s pretty shocking to us that … he has identified the union as a target to talk negatively about.”