Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
In his “state of the city” address in early January, Mayor Tim Keller announced that Albuquerque is seeking to suspend outside monitoring of about a quarter of the requirements laid out in the settlement agreement implementing police reforms. Instead the city is seeking to have the Albuquerque Police Department assess whether it’s following the requirements itself.
But the city has yet to file a self-assessment plan laying out how exactly it will monitor itself, so a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in federal court before U.S. District Judge James Browning will not address the issue.
Instead it is scheduled to be heard at another hearing later in the month.
Although the city initially said it planned to file the self-assessment plan prior to Tuesday’s hearing, Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said it has been delayed. He said the city has provided several drafts to the Department of Justice and to independent monitor James Ginger – who is overseeing the reforms – and it has incorporated their feedback and answered their questions. The city expects to file its plan soon.
“The hearing on the motion was moved in part to allow more time for the court, amici (parties who are not part of the court case but who provide information) and public to review the self-assessment plan,” Gallegos said. “And in part to allow sufficient time for the parties to both conduct the public hearing and have a full hearing on the motion to move paragraphs into sustained compliance and suspended monitoring.”
However, some interested parties say the request is premature and the city will still need a lot of outside help.
“With respect to any future self-assessment plan, it is vital that it includes close supervision of its implementation by the independent monitor,” wrote Peter Cubra, an attorney involved in a federal lawsuit against the city involving the county jail. “This is essential because the City’s Compliance Bureau and almost all of its staff are novices with respect to their core functions; to gather data, determine it’s reliability, analyze the data correctly, identify problem areas and the causes thereof and to help guide program personnel to conceptualize and implement effective corrective actions.”
For the past several years, the city has been working its way through the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) implementing changes to policies, training and ways of operating in the police department. The reforms came about after a DOJ investigation concluded in 2014 that APD had a pattern and practice of using excessive force.
In November, for the first time, monitor Ginger determined the city has achieved 100% primary compliance in all of the paragraphs in the settlement agreement – meaning all of the policies they need to implement have been implemented.
In an interview late last month, Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair and APD Cmdr. Cori Lowe of the Accountability and Oversight Division laid out the broad strokes of the city’s proposal and the misconceptions that came along with the initial announcement.
“I think there has been some confusion because the short hand has been ‘moving these out of the CASA’…,” Nair said. “We’re not getting out of doing those things. We’re not even getting out of making sure we do those things.”
Instead the motion is asking for APD to be able to self-assess the 67 paragraphs it has had full compliance on for the past two years. The motion says APD will provide the self-assessment reports to the court every six months and the monitor will still be able to look over everything they do to ensure it’s complete and fair.
The paragraphs in question deal with everything from the establishment and operation of a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee to field officer recruitment and training to the management of the department’s Special Operations Division, which includes SWAT, the bomb squad and the K-9 unit.
Over the past year the compliance bureau began auditing some aspects of the settlement agreement requirements internally.
Lowe said they started looking at whether officers were turning on their lapel cameras and uploading videos by the end of the next shift. According to the scorecards, which were provided to the Journal in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act, the area commands were 70% to 80% compliant in the first couple of months and then increased to being 88%-94% compliant by August.
Lowe said by the end the officers were complying about 93% of the time, which is still short of the 95% required to be in operational compliance.
“We have some areas we need to work on which we’re continuing to do,” Lowe said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to do that. A lot of times it’s not them just not doing their job it’s our systems training and our policies, so we’re improving all those areas to improve compliance.”
Eventually, the goal is for the monitor to be able to leave and for APD to audit all of the paragraphs in the settlement agreement by itself.
“By doing this incrementally we can learn a lot more,” Lowe said. “We can improve before we start bringing all of these paragraphs out and trying to do it on our own we can do it in smaller pieces to be able to get it more solid.”
The city’s first contract with Ginger – for $4,032,652 for the first four years – expired in January 2019 and an additional 12 months was added for $1,602,063.
Nair said it is too early to know how the plan to self assess will affect Ginger’s contract moving forward. The contract will need to be re-negotiated soon.
APD Forward, a coalition of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and other nonprofits, did not take a formal position on the city’s proposal to self-monitor some requirements.
Rachel Biggs, the policy director for Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless and a member of APD Forward, said the coalition’s outlook is “cautiously optimistic.”
“We do see this as a real test of the city’s ability to adequately self monitor in a way that’s transparent to the community after the DOJ leaves,” she said.
Biggs said the biggest concern is that without the monitor’s regularly released reports – published about twice a year – the community will no longer have a way to keep tabs on the police department’s progress.
“We still have some questions,” Biggs said. “I think the city has made suggestions that that will be the case. But until we see the actual self-assessment plan and what that looks like and how that will be used moving forward, we’re waiting to see how we’ll respond to it.”
In a letter submitted to the court, attorney Antonio “Moe” Maestas wrote that the group he represents called the Community Coalition acknowledges the city has made significant progress in policy development but it does not believe the city is able to reliably self-assess yet.
He pointed to the recent monitor report that faulted supervisors for frequently failing to hold their officers accountable as well as the fact that the city has still not provided its 2018 or 2019 Use of Force Report and some important requirements in the agreement have not moved beyond the creation of a policy.
“The non-compliance in those areas indicates that transformative change has not been attained and raises concerns about the City’s readiness to undertake self-assessment on any parts of the CASA,” Maestas wrote.