SANTA FE, N.M. — Three of the six members of the Police Oversight Commission – charged with reviewing complaints against Albuquerque Police Department officers, as well as officer-involved shootings – resigned Tuesday, saying the commission is ineffective.
Commissioners Richard Shine, Jonathan Siegel and Jennifer Barela sent their resignation letters to Mayor Richard Berry and city councilors Tuesday. They said the City Attorney’s Office had stripped the commission of any power by deliberately misinterpreting the city’s charter, which outlines what the commission can and can’t do.
The POC cannot make any final decisions on officer discipline – APD’s chief has the final say, and he does not have to explain his reasoning to the commission or to the public.
“I cannot continue to pretend or deceive the members of our community into believing that our city has any real civilian oversight,” Siegel said in his letter.
The commission has faced longtime criticism from community members for having no teeth. The Department of Justice blasted Albuquerque’s civilian oversight process last week in an extensive report that found APD had violated citizens’ constitutional rights through the use of force.
“Albuquerque’s external oversight structure could do much more to address unreasonable uses of deadly force, and it is apparent from our review of documents and interviews that the failure to do so in the past has contributed to the pattern of unreasonable force that we have found,” the federal report said.
Carl Foster, one of the three remaining members of the commission, said that although he recognized certain problems with the process, he believes the commission has acted effectively given the rules laid out by the City Council.
“As far as I am concerned, the commission will continue,” Foster said. “We still … have a mission and we’re still going to handle citizen complaints.”
He said members of the DOJ said they wanted the commission to continue during meetings with its members last week.
Shine said that, at the commission’s most recent meeting, members were told by the city attorney’s office that they could no longer decide against the chief’s findings in civilian complaints. All they can do is “rubber stamp” those findings, he said.
Shine said the city has “repeatedly” tried to stymie the commission’s function.
City Attorney David Tourek wouldn’t respond to specific criticisms in the resignation letters.
“It is very unfortunate that they chose to resign at such a critical time,” Tourek said, “but I am confident the POC will continue to do good work and carry on with the important business of citizen oversight.”
The POC is supposed to have nine members, but it can continue meeting with only three. Three spots were vacant before Tuesday’s resignations.
The three commissioners left can keep meeting as usual because the POC’s rules define a quorum as a majority of the members who have been approved and continue serving. In other words, the POC now needs only two of its three members to form a quorum.
The resignations come as the City Council prepares to debate legislation that would boost funding for police oversight and give the POC some additional powers. It would be renamed the Civilian Police Oversight Agency.
Councilors Brad Winter and Rey Garduño are crafting the new proposal. Winter said he isn’t surprised by the general criticisms outlined in the resignation letters.
“We know there’s urgency,” he said.
Rob Perry, the top administrator under the mayor, said he hopes the council will work with the DOJ to reform the oversight system.
“An effective Police Oversight Commission has the ability to play a very important role, as mentioned by the Department of Justice, and these are critical components for community oversight,” Perry said in a written statement.