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Police reform advocates in Albuquerque are asking for the police union to be sanctioned in court for its “Crime Matters More” campaign, which takes aim in part at the extent of ongoing federal oversight.
Unveiled in late April, the campaign cost $70,000, and includes pleas on billboards and social media for city residents to use a template to send city leaders an email saying they “want our tax dollars focused on crime initiatives that lead to a safer Albuquerque, not wasted on endless (Department of Justice) oversight, and scrutiny of our police officers.”
As of May 14, the union had reported that almost 10,000 emails had been sent. On social media, the union encourages people to send emails every week. The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association is an intervenor party to the settlement agreement that lays out the path to reforming the police department.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge James Browning, who is overseeing the reform process, APD Forward said the union’s “actions are clearly intended to frustrate the function of the Court. To our understanding, that is grounds for civil, and possibly criminal, contempt.”
In another letter, the Community Coalition pointed out that, shortly after the union’s campaign began, an unrelated Washington Post article highlighted the APOA as an example of union resistance to reform.
“The Community Coalition joins other amici in expressing concern about the campaign and the commitment of APOA to full compliance with the CASA (Court Approved Settlement Agreement) and transformation to a culture of constitutional policing,” the group wrote in a letter. The Community Coalition is led by attorney Antonio “Moe” Maestas, who also serves as a state lawmaker.
A hearing will be held in federal court Wednesday to address the concerns. It will also cover the latest report by the independent monitor overseeing the reforms, which found the Albuquerque Police Department had backslid in compliance.
John D’Amato, a union attorney, said he is saving his arguments for court, but he challenged anyone to point to failures at APD that were caused by the officers’ association.
Shaun Willoughby, APOA president, denied that the union is asking for the city to be released from the settlement agreement. He said it is meant to give the rest of the community a voice.
“The only thing we have asked the city of Albuquerque to do is to bring some common sense back to reform,” Willoughby said. “The reform efforts are unsustainable, they are leading us down the road to failure.”
But Barron Jones, senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and member of APD Forward, said the campaign is an example of the union’s attempt to undermine the entire process. In reports issued about every six months, the independent monitor has said union officials and attorneys interfere in internal investigations.
“We’ve seen monitoring report after report that speaks of the counter-CASA effect,” Jones said. “Folks at all levels of the department (are) pushing back against the reform process, and I think this campaign is the ultimate manifestation of that counter-CASA effect.”
APD Forward also took issue with the campaign’s “ill-named” slogan, saying it seems to be in response to the Black Lives Matter movement protesting for reforms.
“It’s disrespectful to the efforts by Black Lives Matter across the nation to speak out against police violence and overpolicing in Black and Brown communities,” Jones said.
Willoughby denied that the slogan has any relation to the movement, saying “I think the word ‘matter’ has been part of the English language long before (the) Black Lives Matter (movement) and to automatically assume that it’s linked to Black Lives Matter is ignorant.”