Proposal would abolish, replace Civilian Police Oversight Agency board - Albuquerque Journal

Proposal would abolish, replace Civilian Police Oversight Agency board

A proposal before the Albuquerque City Council would shrink and limit the power of the city’s civilian police oversight board. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque could soon abolish its citizen police oversight board under a proposal that would instead create a smaller civilian panel with less authority.

City Councilor Brook Bassan – who is co-sponsoring the Police Oversight Ordinance update legislation – said it is intended to fix what seems to be a disconnect between what the board should be doing and what it has been doing.

“Right now, things are not really working as we intended them to work,” she said.

She said the legislation establishes that the volunteer citizen board does not govern the entire Civilian Police Oversight Agency, which includes a paid administrative staff and full-time executive director, who oversees investigations into civilian complaints about alleged officer misconduct.

Bassan cited recent turnover in the CPOA’s executive director position, saying previous directors have cited problems with the board while leaving. The nine-member board has historically been understaffed and, with a recent resignation, is now at just six members.

“I believe our job is to find that balance of how to make sure the board has the authority to oversee and protect the community, while also not over-reaching with their authority,” Bassan said.

But one current CPOA board member said he’s “disgusted” by what he sees as a rushed process to gut citizen oversight. He said it should concern the whole community, particularly given the cost of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reform effort in Albuquerque, as well as the number of police shootings. In 2022, Albuquerque Police Department officers shot at 18 people, killing 10, injuring three and missing five.

“As much as there’s a lot of talking about wanting to get better, the writing on the wall is we don’t want anything to change,” CPOA board member Rashad Raynor said.

Raynor said he did not know about the proposed board overhaul until about a month ago, noting that it is headed to a full council vote without having gone through the council committee process.

“From everything we’ve heard, this is a done deal,” he said. “They just have to do the vote.”

Bassan and co-sponsors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Renee Grout introduced the proposal Jan. 4, but have since filed a substitute version with additional changes. The council is slated to vote on the legislation at its Wednesday meeting, though acting on the substitute version would require suspending council rules.

Bassan said Tuesday she did not discuss the proposed changes with current CPOA board members, nor did she think that was essential. She said the sponsors have worked closely with staff and legal counsel on a CPOA structure she believes is best for all parties, but that it’s a council decision to make.

“It’s not necessary for us to negotiate the update of this ordinance with the board,” she said.

The 32-page substitute bill calls for a number of changes to the Police Oversight Ordinance, including:

• Adding the term “advisory” to the volunteer board’s name; it would become the Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board.

• No longer requiring the CPOA executive director to report to the board or get board permission before making officer disciplinary recommendations to APD leadership.

• Reducing board membership to five from nine.

• Shifting certain responsibilities from the board to either the CPOA executive director or a new independent “contract compliance officer” hired by the City Council; for example, the board would no longer lead the vetting process when hiring a new director nor set the director’s salary.

• Altering how CPOA makes policy recommendations to APD; it allows the board to comment on policy proposals that originate with APD, but strikes existing language outlining the board’s process for recommending CPOA-generated policies.

• Compensating board members, including $500 for completing orientation/initial training and $100 per board meeting.

• Requiring the board to consider policy input from the city’s Community Policing Councils.

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