Civilian police oversight is getting an overhaul.
The Albuquerque City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation to abolish the existing Civilian Police Oversight Agency board and instead create a new Civilian Police Oversight “Advisory” board. The new version of the volunteer board will have less power and fewer members.
Councilor Isaac Benton, who co-sponsored the proposal, said finding the best setup has been an ongoing challenge, but it is clear that change is necessary.
“This is a tough nut to crack and I think we’ve tried very hard,” he said. “It’s not out of disrespect to any particular board member, present or past, but it hasn’t worked and it does need a revamp.”
Councilors said it is necessary to clarify the volunteer board’s role, particularly in relation to the paid staff who work in the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, including the full-time executive director charged with overseeing investigations into citizen complaints about alleged officer misconduct.
Former CPOA executive director Deirdre Ewing told the council she supported the bill, referring to herself as one of three past directors — two permanent and one interim — who were “run off” by the volunteer board.
“It allows the current agency — the professionals who focus on the day-to-day task of investigations that is at the heart of this — to continue doing their job unimpeded by a board that sometimes gets a little focused on personal issues and vendettas rather than the task at hand,” Ewing said during Wednesday’s meeting.
Under the bill, the CPOA executive director would no longer report to the board, nor need the board’s approval before making officer disciplinary recommendations to the Albuquerque Police Department administration.
The legislation also transfers what has been the board’s responsibility for vetting CPOA executive director applicants — and sending a list of three top candidates to the City Council for a final decision — to a new contract employee hired by the City Council.
Other significant changes include reducing board membership to five from nine and providing some compensation. That includes $500 after completing the initial — and extensive — board member training and $100 per board meeting.
The board must also now consider input from the city’s existing community policing councils.
“This ordinance simplifies the role of the CPOA board and also gives a greater role in policy review to our community policing councils,” said Councilor Renee Grout, who co-sponsored the bill with Benton, Brook Bassan and Pat Davis.
No current board members spoke during Wednesday’s meeting, though one told the Journal earlier this week that the process seemed like a rush job to weaken citizen oversight.
The proposal moved swiftly, going from introduction to final vote in two weeks without a hearing before a council committee. The council also suspended its own rules in order to take a final vote after having accepted a substitute version of the bill during Wednesday’s meeting.
Bassan disputed charges that it moved fast, saying the sponsors consulted the necessary people.
Davis, meanwhile, said the ordinance reflects the evolution that has occurred over the years — the board’s role is no longer to investigate claims of officer misconduct, but rather to keep an eye on the professional investigators.
“It’s the next generation of what we need it to be,” he said.