It is an important milestone that less than five years into federally mandated reforms, the Albuquerque Police Department is officially 100% compliant in rewriting and promulgating its policies.
After all, it was just a few years ago the U.S. Department of Justice found APD officers had a pattern and practice of using excessive force up to and including fatal shootings. It was clear there was a long, expensive slog ahead under a Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the DOJ to get the department’s culture, training and procedures under control, as well as to regain the public’s trust.
Much credit goes to APD Chief Michael Geier, who rejoined the department in late 2017. Independent monitor James Ginger writes in his tenth report “the Chief and the leadership cadre have hit the mark solidly on the policy front.” He also lauded the creation of a data analysis group and an Internal Affairs Force Division, which has reviewed 300 backlogged use-of-force cases.
But in a department of nearly 1,000 sworn officers, it takes more than good policies and procedures on paper. Those have to become practice. Across the board.
As Journal reporter Elise Kaplan wrote Nov. 8, Ginger says APD is 81% compliant with requirements to train officers on its new and improved policies, but only 64% compliant in determining whether officers and their supervisors are following those policies and being corrected if they aren’t.
And that could be written off to the lag time it takes to get everyone trained – except.
Except this is much more what some would quantify as middle-management apathy toward reforms, what Ginger writes is a “potentially fatal flaw” because it’s coming from the department’s front-line officers and supervisors. To have field sergeants and lieutenants investigating themselves and making excuses for/giving verbal warnings to officers who ignore vital procedures for accountability, like when to use a Taser or turn on their recorders or lapel cameras, should be a non-starter.
Ginger writes “these problems – credibility issues, omission of facts, improper findings of compliance with use of force SOPs, etc. – continue to arise from bias and/or conflicts of interest when compromised supervisors investigate use of force incidents in which they are involved – as participants, witnesses, etc. – or have overseen.”
These mid-level supervisors (who bizarrely are in the same union as the rank-and-file they supervise) serve a crucial role in the broader ecosystem of the department, and APD needs buy-in from every one for the community to have any confidence constitutional policing will be standard operating procedures next week, next month and next year.
Albuquerque taxpayers handed Ginger a four-year, $4 million contract when this DOJ process began in 2015 and have re-upped for $1.6 million through January 2020. While nearly every candidate running in the last city election announced a goal of getting out from under the DOJ agreement to save money, that’s penny wise and pound foolish if officers and their supervisors continue to turn their lapel cams off before tasing people because they are “saving their batteries.”
So yes, APD deserves credit for a job well done rewriting all of its policies and procedures. But that 100% means nothing if the policies and procedures are not implemented or followed. Geier and his top brass need to make that happen before the reform process is declared a success.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.