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Federal monitor: APD policy changes too slow

James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing police reform, discusses his second status report on the reform effort with Albuquerque city councilors Friday

James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing police reform, discusses his second status report on the reform effort with Albuquerque city councilors Friday. Police Chief Gorden Eden sits behind Ginger during the presentation. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The independent monitor overseeing Albuquerque police reform said Friday that APD continues to have problems with writing new policies that will change how the officers do their jobs.

James Ginger, the monitor, had previously issued a status report that was critical of the department’s policymaking process, but only through the end of November. He said Friday that problems have continued, contradicting recent statements by city officials that the Albuquerque Police Department was on the right track.

Overall, Ginger’s reports indicate that APD has achieved “operational compliance” with just eight of 277 reforms and compliance with 22 of 277 primary tasks.

“It still remains a rough spot,” Ginger said. “Until we’re out of that rough spot, we’re not going to get very far.”

That said, the city has taken steps in recent weeks that might prove successful, he said.

To lead policy writing, the city hired former U.S. Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia, a respected New Mexico jurist with decades of experience examining police policy and training in the wake of lawsuits, City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said.

Garcia said in a statement that he was pleased to bring his experience examining constitutional issues involving police and the public to the Albuquerque community.

Ginger said police have recently attempted to clarify the policy writing process, which was a sore spot in his initial status reports. The policies will govern many aspects of policing, such as how much force an officer can use in a given situation, when they turn on their lapel cameras and how they respond to protests.

Ginger said the recent developments marked the “first piece of careful thought” he’s seen from APD and said they could lead to a positive change.

The remarks were made as Ginger briefed city councilors during a study session Friday afternoon, during which Ginger provided some details about the department’s struggles in creating policies.

For example, one of the policies APD must develop is on the response to civil disturbances. The monitoring team suggested APD review the policy of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, which Ginger said is about 140 pages long. APD submitted to the monitoring team a one-and-a-half-page civil disturbance policy that makes no mention of any First Amendment rights, including the right of people to peacefully assemble, he said.

Ginger said for many of the three- or four-page policies APD has submitted, the monitoring team and DOJ officials have had to make 70 to 80 substantive suggestions and changes.

“What’s happening right now isn’t working,” he said. “I’m anything but pleased.”

While Albuquerque police have created a new use-of-force policy and started to train on it, Ginger said the process that led to that was painstaking. City officials had to meet with DOJ and members of the monitoring team and write a policy line-by-line, a process Ginger said won’t be sustainable as the reform process continues.

“I’m not comfortable with the way it happened,” Ginger said.

Council members have said problems with the basic structure of writing reforms should have been addressed by now. The settlement agreement was filed in court in November 2014 and approved by U.S. District Judge Robert Brack in June. The reform process is expected to last four years.

“Millions and millions of dollars later, we’re looking at problems that should have been fixed a year ago,” City Councilor Ken Sanchez said.

The councilors asked for more frequent and timely updates from Ginger, which they said will allow them to hold the city and police administration accountable. “We feel responsible to hold somebody accountable,” Council President Dan Lewis said. “This is the council that requested the DOJ investigation.”

The reforms are listed in a settlement agreement that was reached after a Department of Justice investigation found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force, which included police shootings.

One of the reforms in the settlement requires APD to change more than 30 policies. In Ginger’s first two reports, he called APD’s approach to those changes disjointed and disorganized.

Many of the reforms also will require officers to be retrained on certain policies, such as use of force and on-body cameras. But first those policies must be rewritten and approved by Ginger and his team, and ultimately a federal judge. Ginger said the slow and problematic start to policy writing has left the parties struggling to stay on schedule.

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