Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden threw out a word of advice to the Albuquerque police union on Thursday: Don’t dig in your heels as the city negotiates with the Department of Justice over reforms designed to bring officers’ use of force under control.
Eden made the comment in response to a question at a presentation to the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. Some members of the group wanted to know how to assure visitors that Albuquerque is safe and worthy of investment amid national media attention and federal scrutiny of APD.
Next week, the DOJ is expected to present the city with a draft consent decree outlining changes it thinks the department needs to make. The DOJ this spring released a report finding that APD had a pattern or practice of violating civil rights through its use of force.
APD officers have shot and killed 26 people since 2010.
Eden said unions in other cities that have undergone similar DOJ reviews have had much of their “power stripped” if they don’t cooperate in negotiations.
“I don’t think we want to get to that,” Eden said during a presentation at the Embassy Suites. “I would rather we … work together to solve these problems.”
He said the union has been receptive to some of the department’s initiatives but pointed out that contract talks between the union and the city have stalled. He said it’s time for the union to recognize that it’s time to move forward.
Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said in an interview later Thursday that she has been largely ignored by city and APD leadership since the DOJ issued its report.
Lopez said the union recognizes that “change is coming”.
But she said Eden has not once extended an invitation to sit down with her and that the union would like to play a larger role in negotiations – or at least get keyed in to what is happening with them.
“My frustration in my position is that we’ve been cut out of them,” she said Thursday. “… When I’m representing the majority of the department, you would think (Eden) would like to meet with me, apart from the DOJ meetings.”
In response, APD spokeswoman Janet Blair said Eden looks forward to meeting with the union next week, when the DOJ issues its draft agreement.
The union was critical of a recent department-wide mandate that prohibits the use of personal weapons on duty. Union leaders said the change to a department-issued weapon could make officers less comfortable, and therefore less safe, in dealing with armed criminals in the streets, especially if criminals have higher fire power than the department-issued weaponry.
In its report, the Justice Department criticized the practice of officers being allowed to carry personal weapons, saying the officers treated their weapons as “status symbols.”
Eden said he isn’t waiting for an agreement with the Justice Department to implement reforms he sees as being in line with what the DOJ might want.
“We know that there are some things we need to be doing, so we’re doing them,” Eden told ACVB members. “And, quite frankly, we shouldn’t have waited for the DOJ to get here first.”
As for those in the hotel and convention industry wondering what to say to visitors about the situation with APD, Eden said his communications director, Janet Blair, is working on compiling recommendations on answers to visitors’ concerns.
One hotel general manager said a man and his son were in town and told him “recent headlines” had discouraged them from considering the University of New Mexico as a possible college destination.
Asked whether Eden would recommend focusing on crime statistics in Albuquerque compared to other Southwest cities as evidence of Albuquerque’s safety, Eden said the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report – which offers a breakdown of crimes committed by state and city – is often not the best indicator for crime in a city or across the nation, because the bureau frequently changes its definitions for certain crimes, making the statistics fluctuate year to year.
Eden did point to several things he said could make a positive impact on the police department and therefore the city’s ability to attract visitors and events. He said the APD’s upcoming academy class will contain 45 “highly qualified” potential police officers, an increase several times above recent academy classes, including one last year with only seven cadets.
He also touted the department’s efforts to expand crisis intervention and de-escalation training to all of its officers. The recently graduated 110th academy class is the first to have nearly 100 hours of crisis intervention training, he said, and the department is “looking at” expanding the training to members of the community who potentially have a relative or neighbor with mental illness.
“We’re taking this training beyond the boundaries and taking it into the communities,” he said. “That’s how important we think this training is.”