The Albuquerque Police Department is within reach of full compliance in its federally mandated reform efforts after making substantial progress in back-to-back reporting periods.
The 17th Independent Monitor’s Report — which covered Aug. 1 through Jan. 31, 2023 — found APD was only 3 percentage points from full compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, or CASA.
The 15th and 16th reports, released in 2022, also saw gains made but the 17th has brought APD closer than ever to the finish line.
APD has now reached 100% secondary compliance, which concerns officer training, and 92% operational compliance, which tracks whether officers are following policies and being corrected when they don’t, according to the report.
The latter is a 12% improvement from the 16th report, which was released in November and had APD at 80% operational compliance.
The department will be at full compliance when it reaches 95% operational compliance.
CASA was put in place in 2014 after Department of Justice investigators found APD officers had a pattern of excessive force. Since then, an independent monitor has issued regular reports on the city’s compliance with the reforms in the agreement.
In his latest report, Independent Monitor James Ginger noted APD made “substantial progress,” achieving success with some of the “more difficult compliance processes,” like timely and well-documented use-of-force investigations.
APD officers are also using force less than they were three years ago, according to the report, with 284 incidents compared with 484 in 2020. There were 47 of the highest level — Level 3 — uses of force in 2022, a year when police shot at a record-high 18 people, killing 10 of them.
Ginger said “there remains work to be done however” in terms of compliance; with some use-of-force incidents still being misclassified and the quality of reviews by some members of the Force Review Board decreasing, again.
“We note this had been a problem in the past and was corrected,” Ginger wrote, adding that the department “has already moved to address these issues.”
On April 17, the city sent a letter to Ginger suggesting the Independent Monitoring Team take a 40% pay cut — to $80,000 a month — saying he had a lighter workload due to the progress made by APD in compliance. Currently Ginger’s team makes $133,000 a month.
As of Friday afternoon, Ginger had not agreed to those terms.
APD Chief Harold Medina, in a statement, said the monitor’s latest report “demonstrates how close we are to reaching the end of the consent decree.”
“This doesn’t mean we are done with reform,” Medina said. “It means we know what it takes to be in compliance, and we are proving we can stay in compliance with all of the changes we’ve made.”
The department’s success followed years of backsliding and, in 2020 and 2021, Ginger blasted APD’s reforms as “on the brink of a catastrophic failure” — citing its inability to police itself.
In July 2021, an external group called the External Force Investigation Team (EFIT) began training the Internal Affairs Force Division on how to investigate use-of-force cases, making sure they meet deadlines and follow procedures.
In his latest report, Ginger wrote that the EFIT project has been “very successful” with the new Internal Affairs Force Division commander also making “a noticeable impact” in the quality and timeliness of investigations.
He said that division went from following EFIT’s investigation standards around 76% of the time in 2022 to 96% of the time by January 2023. In that time, three Internal Affafirs Force Division detectives have been released to investigate use-of-force cases without EFIT’s oversight and 11 others are in the transition phase.
As he has done in past reports, Ginger cautioned that APD needs to ensure quality investigations continue once EFIT passes oversight responsibilities wholly back to the Internal Affairs Force Division — testing its abilities to sustain the progress made.
“It is time for the highest level executives at APD to become hyper-focused in its CASA compliance efforts and not allow any degree of complacency to seep in,” Ginger said, asking the leadership to “appreciate the current standards that are in place, reflect on the past and consider the technical assistance they have received from the monitoring team over the years.”
“The lessons learned will help inform future decisions that help sustain and build upon the progress of reform,” Ginger said.