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Town hall celebrates APD’s implementation of reforms

The City of Albuquerque hosted a town hall Saturday afternoon touting the progress of reforms at the Albuquerque Police Department under the ongoing settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I have to tell you, I have been doing this since the 1990s,”said James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing the reforms. “APD, in the last year, has made substantially more progress than just about any agency I’m familiar with, so my hat goes off to APD.”

During the nearly two-hour-long event at the Albuquerque Convention Center, Ginger, Mayor Tim Keller, U.S. Attorney John Anderson and APD Chief Michael Geier spoke to an auditorium packed with community members, organizations and city employees before police staff gave a rundown of what’s being done to comply with the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement, or CASA.

The agreement came about after the DOJ found a pattern of excessive force and a culture of aggression within APD.

Since the reform project was launched in 2014, Ginger said APD’s policies are 99 percent compliant with the settlement agreement, and training is 75 percent compliant. Operational compliance – meaning on-duty officers abide by the agreement and if they fail to, supervisors note and correct the behavior – is at 59 percent.

Ginger said that since the last report, APD policy compliance rose 5 percent, training compliance 9 percent and operational compliance 12 percent.

“That is massive in one period. It reflects the work that Chief Geier and his people have done over the past few weeks and over the past few months,” Ginger said. “We’re on the cusp … We’re closer almost every day.”

Once the department is in full operational compliance, Anderson said, the DOJ will monitor the police department’s compliance over two years before closing the investigation.

Albuquerque police officers gave a rundown of the changes being made in “four key areas”: – behavioral health, use of force, community engagement and a program aimed at improving officer conduct – that go along with CASA compliance.

One of the new initiatives is EPIC, or Ethical Policing is Courageous, a program at APD that originated in New Orleans and aims to stem officer misconduct.

APD Lt. George Vega explained that EPIC trains officers on how to intervene when they witness a fellow officer’s misconduct and to recognize problematic behaviors beforehand.

Now, he said officers will go through eight hours of peer intervention training – six hours in a classroom and two hours that is scenario based – and will receive a pin afterward to display that they have been through EPIC training.

“EPIC involves each officer giving permission to their fellow officer to intervene when they are about to do something that could harm themselves, others, tarnish our profession and tarnish our community,” Vega said.

After the initial presentation, which did not allow for public comment, officers made themselves available to the public to talk about the initiatives the department is making as well as answer any questions.

City resident Diane McCash said the event was “not what she expected” and wished they had taken more public input.

“I felt talked at – it just felt like a public relations opportunity,” she said. “I take everything with a handful of salt. Until and unless it happens, I’m skeptical of a real cultural change … I want to see it.”

McCash said the police department has “a ways to go,” but she is interested in seeing it come into full operational compliance.

“I want to see it put into practice,” she said.

Both McCash and another community member, Alexander Santos, took a special interest in the EPIC program.

“They always kind of stick up for each other,” Santos said of police officers. “(EPIC would be) at least something to combat that and say that they should be to a higher moral and ethical standard. Not just to protect each other but do what’s right for the community.”

Santos said the presentation was “informative,” providing a lot of numbers and facts to back up the APD’s reform effort.

“It seems like a little bit of lip service … that’s kind of how it goes,” he said, “but I learned a lot. I didn’t know a lot of these things.”

Santos said he is hopeful for the future and is glad the community showed up to the event in large numbers. Next time, he hopes the department holds more of an “open forum.”