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Civil rights team has eye on DOJ-APD deal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city and the Department of Justice have reached a settlement agreement that both sides said will result in a cultural shift within the Albuquerque Police Department, but civil rights attorneys say that’s yet to be decided.

A legal team organized by APD Forward, a community organization advocating for improvements to APD, reviewed the agreement and said the independent monitor hired to oversee the reforms could determine if the agreement is a success. The group discussed its review Wednesday.

The 106-page agreement unveiled Friday outlines the court-enforceable reforms APD must make in the coming months and years. The settlement aims to revamp the department’s use-of-force controls, specialized units, training, internal investigations and recruitment, among other areas. It was negotiated after a DOJ investigation showed APD had a practice of excessive force, which included fatal police shootings.

“Monitoring all these things, the deployment of SWAT, the way the discipline is going to be enforced, is critical,” said Alexandra Freedman Smith, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties of New Mexico.

The monitor will assess if the city and police department are complying with the agreement and if its terms are resulting in an increase in public trust and constitutional policing.

“They’ve essentially put a monitor over the fox who is watching the henhouse,”said Randi McGinn, an Albuquerque attorney. “If (police) are not really investigating these things, if they are not doing what they are supposed to do, the monitor can step in and do something about that. We’re hoping.”

Smith said the group would like to see a monitor from out of state.

“New Mexico is just a small community and it would be really hard to find somebody in this community that doesn’t somehow have ties to law enforcement,” she said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the city of Albuquerque will jointly pick the monitor. They are accepting letters of interest until Dec. 12. A person will be hired to the position in the next two months.

With a strong monitor and the officers on board, the settlement could be a success, the APD Forward team said Wednesday.

Phil Davis, an Albuquerque attorney, said higher standards for hiring officers, public use-of-force reports, more accountability for supervisors and protection for officers acting as whistle-blowers will improve APD.

The group also supported the agreement’s emphasis on using on-body cameras. It said APD’s culture would improve from a stringent policy that requires officers to record most interactions, and punishes the officers who violate the policy.

“A watched cop doesn’t boil,” Smith said.

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