2 councilors say suspend POC panel

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two Albuquerque city councilors want to suspend operations of the Police Oversight Commission while the city debates the future of the civilian watchdog group.

Councilors Trudy Jones and Brad Winter, both Republicans from the Northeast Heights, plan to introduce the proposal at Monday’s council meeting. Final action would come at a later meeting.

The commission has faced criticism from across the political spectrum in recent months. Its critics include the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which sued in April over public comment restrictions; the police union; and activists and family members of men shot and killed by police.

“When you have all the different groups involved with the POC saying the same thing – ‘it’s not working’ – then there’s something wrong,” Winter said Thursday in an interview. “I think it’s time it came to a head, and we just stop and work on the new ordinance.”

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Jones said the commission is “dysfunctional. It seems to cause more controversy than good.”

A separate proposal is pending before the council to form a task force and sponsor town-hall meetings on how to revise the police oversight ordinance. That measure is co-sponsored by Winter and Rey Garduño, a Democrat from the university area.

The city established the civilian oversight system in 1999. An independent review officer investigates citizen complaints against police and decides whether an officer is in the right or wrong. The POC can accept or reject the findings, but the police chief has final say on disciplinary matters.

The POC is an advisory panel made up of nine appointed volunteers.

Under the Winter-Jones proposal, all functions of the POC would be suspended until the council re-authorizes the group or enacts a new oversight system. The independent review officer would continue to accept and investigate citizen complaints, but without involving the POC. In the meantime, the proposal says the city could assign staff to review the review officer’s work or contract with hearing officers.

The oversight commission has been embroiled in controversy for months. The ACLU filed a freedom-of-speech lawsuit against it for abruptly limiting public comment during a mid-December meeting.

In January, one of the commission’s votes – to censure a member – was voided because its consideration violated the state Open Meetings Act.

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Police Department is facing a federal investigation into whether it has a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through officers’ use of force. There are also ongoing federal criminal investigations involving APD, although officials have not released details.

Even without any ordinance changes, the council has been reshaping the POC with the appointment of new members.

But the commission has continued to overwhelmingly exonerate officers in cases involving citizen complaints.

Mike Gomez, whose son was fatally shot by an officer, said he and other activists have for some time supported suspension of the commission. “There is nothing that’s in place right now that should justify their existence,” Gomez said. “I think it’s a great idea to suspend their operations until the public and government can come up with a way to make them more credible and have some kind of enforcement ability.”

Greg Weber, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said Thursday he would support suspension because he is concerned about the level of training the commissioners receive about police work. He suggested this spring that councilors require the POC members to attend a citizen police academy or something similar.

Members of the commission are required to go on ridealongs and get civil-rights training.

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