Police reform advocates express frustration with city and DOJ - Albuquerque Journal

Police reform advocates express frustration with city and DOJ

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

As community members and advocates expressed their frustrations at a federal court hearing on the Albuquerque Police Department’s reform effort, the city and the Department of Justice affirmed their commitment to seeing the court-mandated reforms through to create lasting change.

One of the measures to achieve this goal is asking the External Force Investigation Team – an outside group contracted to assist Internal Affairs detectives with use-of-force investigations – to expand its scope of work and tackle a backlog of cases that formed through the first half of 2021. The city and the DOJ are in negotiations about the idea.

According to the latest report from the independent monitor overseeing the reforms, there were 667 cases in the backlog, 83% were older than 120 days, so officers could not be disciplined if it was discovered they had violated policies. EFIT was brought in to improve the quality of investigations and Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said the backlog has not grown since the group started work in June.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the executive director of Disability Rights New Mexico asked if the city administration was still committed to bringing constitutional policing to Albuquerque and pushed back on rhetoric linking high violent crime to the reform effort.

A representative from the community policing councils – citizen groups created by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement to engage in dialogue with the police department – said they feel “left out, disrespected and unappreciated,” and didn’t have enough resources to be effective.

The former chair of the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee criticized the city’s new Community Safety department – made up of first responders tasked with handling mental health and homelessness calls – for not involving the board or asking for advice when developing policies and procedures.

And Peter Cubra, with the McClendon subclass representing incarcerated people, said he was horrified by the administration’s attacks on the independent monitor and his characterization of APD’s progress.

“In recent times, the city of Albuquerque has done the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in one of these kinds of lawsuits,” Cubra said. “Their horrific levels of non-compliance alone would be the basis for civil contempt.”

He added that he was dismayed the Department of Justice had not taken action and urged U.S. District Judge James Browning to do so instead.

However, Paul Killebrew, an attorney who said the Albuquerque case was the first one he was assigned to when he started with the Department of Justice in 2013, pushed back, saying that the goal is not merely to get the city past the finish line, but also to foster sustainable reforms. He said “all options remain on the table.”

“So, on an ongoing basis, we’re examining what is happening with compliance and what are the steps that we need to take to move compliance along to help APD reach the goals of the consent decree and to protect the people of Albuquerque from unconstitutional policing,” Killebrew said.

Chief Medina, appearing in a suit and tie after testifying before the Legislature, agreed, but said part of that means pushing back on the independent monitor so as to streamline processes.

“If I had an unlimited budget and unlimited resources, I’d have every position hired necessary for us to go into compliance,” Medina said. “The simple fact of the matter is I don’t. I have given every civilian position that I can to compliance, so I can get sworn people going out to enforce laws.”

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