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APD reform monitor holds public meeting

James Ginger, the federal court-appointed monitor overseeing Albuquerque's police reforms, answers questions from the public during a forum Thursday at the Patrick J. Baca Library. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

James Ginger, the federal court-appointed monitor overseeing Albuquerque’s police reforms, answers questions from the public during a forum Thursday at the Patrick J. Baca Library. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The independent monitor overseeing Albuquerque police reforms and his team held a public meeting on the West Side on Thursday, marking the first time they’ve spoken publicly to residents of the city.

James Ginger, the monitor, is embarking on at least a four-year, $4.5 million effort in which he will report to a federal judge on the reforms. The Albuquerque Police Department is facing court-enforceable reforms outlined in a settlement agreement after the U.S. Department of Justice found police had a pattern of excessive force.

Ginger fielded questions and responded to comments from community members during the 1½-hour-long meeting Thursday evening. The questions ranged from how he measured success and his role in the reform process to the makeup of the monitoring team, staffing and police accountability.

Ginger said, if successful, the reform process will improve APD’s policies, training, supervision and discipline.

“Give it time,” Ginger said. “I know your patience is thin already or we wouldn’t be here.”

Kathy Brown, left, and Barbara Grothus of Albuquerque ask questions of court-appointed monitor James Ginger and his Albuquerque police reform team on Thursday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Kathy Brown, left, and Barbara Grothus of Albuquerque ask questions of court-appointed monitor James Ginger and his Albuquerque police reform team on Thursday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

About 50 people attended the meeting at the Patrick J. Baca Library at Central and Unser. Ginger said there will be more public meetings throughout the next four years.

Joe Valles, an Albuquerque dentist, asked how the police staffing level – the department is well below the 1,000 officers it’s budgeted for – would affect reforms.

“An overstressed police department has got to be taxing for the individual officer,” he said. “That’s the real crisis.”

Ginger said an Albuquerque police staffing study should be completed next month.

Several members of the audience said they remained concerned about accountability for officers who had already been in controversial shootings that led to lawsuits and millions of dollars in judgments against the city.

Ginger responded by saying that while some of those issues are outside of the scope of the reform process, this week he met with families of people who had been killed by police officers and with other community groups that share similar concerns.

“That’s outside my role as monitor, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring ideas to address burning issues in the community,” he said.

Dinah Vargas, one woman who spoke at the meeting, said there are concerns that the city denied the findings of the DOJ in court documents.

“How are we supposed to move forward if we don’t admit we have a problem?” she said.

When asked about discipline for officers who don’t turn on lapel cameras, Ginger said police will have to make a strong and clear on-body camera policy as part of the settlement.

Headed by Ginger, the monitoring team is comprised of academics, community organizers and several former police officers who worked in departments that also implemented court-enforceable reforms.

A member of the audience asked why there were no native New Mexicans on the monitoring team. Ginger said he is speaking with University of New Mexico officials about adding such a person to his team.

The team will write periodic reports that detail how APD is implementing the reforms. Though the process is in the beginning stages, Ginger said that, so far, he hasn’t been met with resistance.

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