The Albuquerque Police Department will overhaul its use of force policies, recruitment, training, internal affairs procedures and field supervision of officers under terms of a sweeping settlement agreement between the city and the Department of Justice that was made public Friday.
The 106-page document requires widespread changes ranging from APD’s SWAT team protocols to banning chokeholds to auditing the use of every Taser carried by officers. It includes provisions for a civilian review agency and various public advisory councils designed to increase community interaction.
And it provides for a monitor who will report on the city’s compliance to the DOJ, the city, the public and to a federal judge. The judge has the power to enforce terms of the agreement, which is to be filed in U.S. District Court by Nov. 10.
At the request of Mayor Richard Berry, who has signed the document on behalf of the city, the City Council will have an opportunity to review the document and to ask questions at a meeting next Thursday.
Berry has agreed to “personally recommend” the council support the agreement, although the council does not have the power to block it.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, or inexpensive, or without a hitch or stumbling block here and there,” Berry said. “But I believe that we can all do this successfully.”
In a meeting with Journal reporters and editors, the mayor estimated the cost at between $4 million and $6 million in the first year.
Some of the requirements laid out in the agreement already have been undertaken by the department since Berry appointed Gorden Eden as police chief, such as policies requiring that officers carry only department-issued firearms and requiring crisis intervention training for all officers.
The requirements laid out in the document are a mix of reinforcing traditional police command structures and opening up the department to new voices, in particular in the area of mental health policies.
The agreement requires APD to adopt a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for all use of force incidents and details how those will be investigated. And it requires APD to revise and update its policies on the use of lapel cameras. The department is in the middle of a public review of those policies.
The agreement includes a new use of force review board to oversee internal affairs investigations and make recommendations on discipline to the chief.
It also said the city has chosen to eliminate the Repeat Offenders Project, known as ROP, within three months of signing the agreement. Members of the unit have been involved in a number of controversial shootings.
“Those detectives that have been assigned to ROP will be assigned to other divisions within the Special Investigations Division,” Eden said. “We will continue with making sure that … we have in place the right teams with the right training to address the repeat offenders.”
The agreement was negotiated over the last six months after the DOJ released a scathing report on the department’s use of force and a finding that the department engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional use of force and deadly force.
U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the agreement “addresses the nine main points raised in the DOJ report” and starts “a new chapter” for Albuquerque police.
“It is also a roadmap for rebuilding the trust between the community and the police,” he said.
If the city balks or shows bad faith, the DOJ has the option of filing a federal lawsuit against the city over what it has called the city’s unconstitutional policing practices.
According to the agreement, a monitor and a team of experts will be appointed to oversee the detailed reform package within 60 days of its filing with the court. The agreement says APD will strive to come in compliance with all requirements within four years.
The agreement states it is “designed to ensure police integrity, protect officer safety, and prevent use of excessive force, including unreasonable use of deadly force, by APD.”
Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said the agreement is designed to provide clear guidelines, benchmarks and goals for the city in fulfilling the agreement. She said the settlement will resolve APD’s pattern of unconstitutional force.
“This agreement comes from a mutual commitment by the city and the Department of Justice to ensure the Albuquerque Police Department works with the community and polices in a manner that respects the rights of residents and promotes mutual confidence between law enforcement and the community,” she said.
DOJ officials said the negotiations proceeded at a quick pace.
“These negotiations were serious, they were candid and they were also aimed at problem solving,” Gupta said.
As in its investigative findings, the overarching themes of the agreement involve police use of force and deadly force, and dealing with people with mental illness or behavioral disorders.
City Attorney David Tourek also signed for the city, along with Martinez and Gupta for the federal government.
“The parties have determined that the settlement agreement, rather than protracted and costly litigation, is the most effective means of resolving the Department of Justice’s investigation and ensuring constitutional and effective policing for the residents of Albuquerque,” the agreement states.
Use of force changes
After reviewing 20 fatal shootings by Albuquerque police between 2009 and 2013, the DOJ concluded that the pattern and practice in the use of unconstitutional deadly and nonlethal force was due to “structural and systemic deficiencies — including insufficient oversight, inadequate training and ineffective policies …”
The agreement doesn’t change much in the department’s existing policies on the use of firearms by police officers other than banning firing weapons at moving vehicles in all but the most dire situations.
But it requires far more reporting by officers and field supervisors and also requires detailed reviews of those reports up the chain of command within the department.
Under the agreement, officers who point their firearms at a person, but don’t fire, will have to fill out a use of force report that will be reviewed by field supervisors.
The agreement requires a new chain of command for the review of Internal Affairs reports of officer-involved shootings, creating a Shooting Review Board that reviews the Internal Affairs Reports and can make recommendations on discipline or ask for further investigation of an incident.
That review is separate from a city civilian police oversight agency that will be independent of the department and will review police use of force incidents as well as civilian complaints.
The agreement broadens and removes obstacles to the types of civilian complaints Internal Affairs and the civilian oversight agency can review.
In April, the DOJ found the use of nonlethal force involving significant harm or injury to people by APD officers and a similar pattern of excessive force by officers against people who posed no threat and was not justified by the circumstances.
The agreement calls for stricter training and restrictions on the use of nonlethal force, and requires more training and controls over the use of Tasers by officers along with quarterly audits of their use.
Certain types of hand-to-hand techniques also are barred under the agreement unless the officer is in a situation that would require the use of lethal force if it were available. For instance, neck holds, sometimes called chokeholds, will be explicitly forbidden to be used by officers except in situations where lethal force would be authorized.
The level of oversight from supervisors and reporting requirements for nonlethal force situations also will be increased.
In April, federal officials made it clear that the fatal shooting of James Boyd in March in the Albuquerque foothills by APD officers was not part of the DOJ civil findings. An APD video of the shooting went viral on the Internet and led to street protests in Albuquerque.
But the report did find that too many of the APD use of force incidents involved people with mental illnesses or with behavioral disorders.
Under the agreement, all officers will receive behavioral health and crisis intervention training, and new 911 operators will receive 20 hours of behavioral health training.
APD will be required to increase the number of officers assigned to the Crisis Intervention Teams and develop policies and procedures so there are clear lines of authority in the field in dealing with people who are mentally ill.
The city is required to form a Mental Health Advisory Committee with broad membership coming from within the department, the community and from mental health agencies to review department policies, recommend changes and keep the department abreast of new developments and issues in dealing with the mentally ill.
Like other parts of the agreement, the mental health portion requires the department to collect and track data on calls for trained crisis intervention officers.
The agreement calls for the department to beef up its contacts with the chronically homeless and individuals with mental illness who have a history of law enforcement encounters in order to help connect these individuals with mental health service providers.
The department also is required to develop protocols addressing situations involving barricaded, suicidal subjects who are not posing an imminent risk of harm to anyone except themselves.
Major requirements of the DOJ agreement with the city:
– APD will set up a Use of Force Review Board to examine each use of force investigation completed by the Internal Affairs Bureau. The board can make recommendations on discipline if the use of force violated APD policy. It will make quarterly reports after reviewing all use of force reports to identify trends and policy changes.
– The city also will be required to implement a civilian police oversight agency that independently reviews citizen complaints, serious uses of force and officer-involved shootings by APD. The civilian agency also will monitor, review and make recommended changes to APD policy on use of force.
– In the next six months, the city will form a Mental Health Advisory Committee with membership drawn from within the department, mental health professionals and the community that will review current department policies dealing with the mentally ill and recommend changes in policies and procedures on how the department responds to people with mental illness or behavioral disorders. Long-term, the committee will make recommendations on policy changes in line with developments in the mental health field and enhance the department’s coordination with the behavioral health system.
– The city has chosen to eliminate the Repeat Offenders Project, known as ROP, within three months of signing the agreement. Members of the unit have been involved in a number of controversial shootings.
– Members of the SWAT team — some of whom have been involved in controversial shootings — will no longer respond as individuals to crime scenes but only as a unit with their supervisors following detailed protocols for their call out to a crime scene.
– Use-of-force reports will be much more detailed and even will require officers who point a firearm at someone to report the action as a use of force. Sergeants and lieutenants will be required to be much more involved in field supervision and review of use of force by officers.
Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.