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DOJ should set aside politics in picking monitor

The only real news contained in the July 24 “Joint Statement of Principles by United States Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque Regarding the Albuquerque Police Department” signed by the city and the DOJ is the fact that the city agreed to a federal monitor. As if the city really had a choice!

Watching U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez and Mayor Richard Berry sitting together singing “kumbaya” and only now expressing urgency to complete negotiations expeditiously was preposterous at best and an exhibition of pathos at worst.

Berry acknowledged, for the first time, the urgency of fixing a police department that has been spiraling in meltdown for five years while under his watch. However Berry does so without taking any responsibility for the extremely poor management decisions made by his former Public Safety Officer Darren White, former APD Chief Ray Schultz, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, former APD Chief Allen Banks and current APD Chief Gordon Eden.

The eight points of negotiations acknowledged the identical issues identified in the April 14 original DOJ report that found a “culture of violence” in the Albuquerque Police Department.

Yet it took over three months for the Berry administration to sign off on a two and a half page Joint Statement of Principles.

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ in Washington did the investigation, and it is calling all the shots and will be demanding reform measures. The joint statement proclaims an intent to provide transparency into the negotiation process but offers few and very fuzzy details as to how this will be actually achieved.

A consent decree will be hammered out, and once agreed to, the consent decree will be approved by a federal judge. Any and all proposed consent decrees should be disclosed to the public for comment and input before they are finalized and filed for approval by the federal court.

The Statement of Principles says once an agreement is reached, it will be “presented” to the Albuquerque City Council. It does not say it must be voted upon and approved by the City Council or if it can be rejected by the City Council as being too burdensome thereby performing genuine oversight.

There is no provision for federal funding to pay for the reforms demanded by the DOJ. New Orleans had the same process and agreed to a consent decree that it cannot now afford and the New Orleans mayor is now going to court to set it aside. The Department of Justice reforms are costing New Orleans $10 to $12 million a year.

Taxpayers will foot the bill for two outside city negotiators and so-called experts Berry hired with a no-bid contract approaching half a million dollars. In support of them, Berry merely says trust me, they know what they are doing.

The City Attorney’s Office, which employs over 30 attorneys, should be more than capable of handling the negotiations without the hiring these self-titled experts.

The Statement of Principles says a request for information will be issued nationally to solicit applicants to be appointed as independent monitor at city taxpayer expense. Ultimately, who will have the final authority to appoint? The federal judge assigned, the DOJ, the mayor, the City Council? Will the City Council be given the option to say no to whoever will be appointed?

Berry conducted a national search for a new police chief and we got stuck with the appointment of a Republican political operative who is in over his head and who has only made things worse. Let us hope the Department of Justice sets aside politics and we get a federal monitor who can turn APD around and restore public confidence in public safety and the Albuquerque Police Department.

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