ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack on Tuesday officially approved a settlement agreement between the city and Department of Justice that aims to reform the Albuquerque Police Department, making it a binding court order.
The agreement was negotiated over five months after the DOJ issued a report saying it had determined APD had a pattern of excessive lethal and nonlethal force. It is an outline of numerous reforms planned for Albuquerque police, and pertains to the use of force, specialized units, crisis intervention, training, misconduct investigations, supervision, recruitment, officer health and community engagement, Brack wrote.
“The Agreement lays a thoughtful foundation for building systemic reform in APD,” he said in his order.
U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the judge's approval of the settlement was a crucial step in the reform process.
“It's now court-enforceable. We can go forward, and now all parties are accountable to it. Today was really a big day,” he said.
Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman, said the department is making changes required in the settlement. For example, about 95 percent of officers have received crisis intervention training, she said.
“We have already been making changes. And the fact that a judge issued an opinion without making changes means that the process can continue,” she said.
Brack made clear in his opinion that James Ginger will act as the court's monitor to evaluate whether the city and DOJ are meeting their commitments under the settlement. Though Brack had already approved Ginger's position, Albuquerque city councilors last month debated withholding paying Ginger because he hadn't met with them.
Ginger “will function as the eyes and ears of the Court,” Brack said. “He and his team will be responsible for assessing whether the parties fulfill their obligations under the consent decree.”
In approving the agreement, Brack shot down numerous arguments made by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. The police union had argued that the settlement violated a contract reached be the city and police officers.
But Brack in the order did say the union's position on some of the issues, and the input the court has received from numerous community groups who have filed motion to intervene in the case, will be considered as the reform process moves forward.
Brack said the city, DOJ and Ginger will report to him during annual hearings, or more frequently if he orders it. The process is expected to take at least four years.