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Hearing stresses that APD reform is making progress, still has a long way to go

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As Police Department officials, lawyers and community advocates spent a full day discussing the progress of the police reform effort before a federal judge in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Paul Killebrew, the special counsel for the Department of Justice, said it might be next fall before they know how the city has fared in implementing the next crucial steps of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement.

“What we expect in November is a number of paragraphs (in the settlement agreement) will have come into compliance,” Killebrew said. “If they come to you and haven’t brought that into compliance, that’s a concerning sign. If they don’t live up to that expectation, we’re going to have to have a serious conversation.”

That’s because the Albuquerque Police Department launched its new use-of-force policy suite just last month and it is still in the midst of asking the Department of Justice to suspend outside monitoring of about one-fourth of the requirements laid out in the settlement agreement.

The new use-of-force policies include tasking a dedicated team of internal affairs detectives with investigating most use-of-force cases rather than field supervisors. APD has said the move is a better division of resources because the detectives will have more practice and time to devote specifically to use-of-force investigations and won’t have the same reluctance to investigate field officers that area command supervisors have. APD has also said the investigations will become more consistent across the department.

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US District Judge James Browning

Tuesday’s hearing before Judge James Browning was initially expected to cover the city’s motion asking to suspend the independent monitor’s role in overseeing about a quarter of the settlement agreement, but the city did not file a self-assessment plan laying out how they would do so in time. A hearing has been scheduled to hear that motion later in the month.

In response to Judge Browning’s questions, DOJ attorneys expressed frustration that they had not received a final plan along with the court filing.

“We would have preferred to see it all together,” Killebrew said. “The fact that it came in piecemeal makes it more difficult.”

The first half of the hearing included APD Chief Michael Geier and high-ranking commanders, lieutenants and deputy chiefs giving presentations on the progress they have made in investigating and tracking use-of-force cases, as well as responding to people in the throes of a mental health crises.

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Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier

However, everyone present stressed that the Police Department still has a long road ahead of it. Independent monitor James Ginger has continued to point to what he calls a “counter-CASA (Court Approved Settlement Agreement) effect” – supervisors, both in the field and in the command staff, who are unwilling to commit to the reforms and hold officers accountable.

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, who has maintained that officers dislike and are frustrated by the reforms, agreed that it was time to embrace the changes, even if he didn’t think reform was necessary in the first place.

“We have to complete this mission to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Willoughby said. “It’s a means to an end to get our Police Department back.”

Toward the end of the day, Stephen Torres spoke on behalf of APD Forward, a coalition of advocacy organizations and individuals. Torres, whose son, Christopher Torres, was shot by APD in 2010, pointed to two fatal police shootings in the first six weeks of the year.

“We all need to continue to keep a close eye on APD,” Torres said.

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