ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said in an interview with USA Today that it will be difficult to reform the department because it is “stuck” with officers who “shouldn’t be on the force.”
Eden told the newspaper that aspects of the contract between the union and the city make it difficult for officials to discipline officers for past actions that have already gone through the disciplinary process.
That, he said, will make it hard to make changes as required by the Justice Department. The interview was published on the paper’s website Wednesday.
Eden said in a prepared statement Wednesday evening that all large departments have at least some problem officers.
“Although the law will not permit me to retroactively investigate, impose discipline or take other administrative action, I can assure you that my management team and I closely monitor the small group of officers that are of concern in this area,” he said. “As the leader of APD, it’s my job to address these situations where we help officers succeed, either coaching them up or coaching them out.”
Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association President Stephanie Lopez said Eden’s comments were a “surprising disappointment.”
“This is a misrepresentation of facts. First and foremost, our goal as an organization is to ensure that our members receive adequate due process,” she said. “Law enforcement in the 21st century is a grueling profession.”
She said she disagrees that any aspect of the police contract prevents the department from disciplining officers. Police officers in July ratified a three-year contract negotiated between the city and the union.
Lopez said in an interview that the only sticking point during negotiations was union time. Previously, the union wanted the city to pay for union officials’ salaries. The city disagreed. Now officers give up a portion of their vacation time to pay for union officials’ salaries.
Lopez said Eden’s comments were the first time she has heard complaints about the contract making it difficult to get rid of problem officers. Eden has previously stated that the police union needs to be on board with reforms negotiated between the Justice Department and the city.
The city of Albuquerque and the Justice Department are negotiating a consent decree aimed at reforming the department. The federal agency announced in April that it found APD had a pattern of violating residents’ constitutional rights with its use of force, and that one contributing factor was its aggressive culture. APD officers have shot 37 people since 2010.
The USA Today report drew comparisons between Albuquerque and Ferguson, Mo., where the police department is being investigated by the DOJ following a police shooting that has caused a national uproar. The report stated that Albuquerque could serve as a blueprint for Ferguson.
Lopez said Eden and the police union have been on good terms lately, but she said officers are “probably going to have hard feelings” about Eden’s comments.
Eden and other city officials just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., where they met with officials from that city and its police department about reforms adopted there to curtail use-of-force. That department was facing scrutiny for several incidents involving police shootings.