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Monitor criticizes APD’s use-of-force investigations

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque police supervisors failed to review use-of-force cases properly, and the department appears unwilling to objectively investigate those types of cases, according to the third report released Friday from the monitoring team overseeing APD’s reform effort.

But the report was based on Albuquerque police performance through March, and the department’s higher-ranking officers have since completed supervisory investigation training, said APD Chief Gorden Eden. He said that should correct problems identified in the report.

The report also said that APD and the city appear dedicated to the reform effort.

“(The department) has begun the process of revising policies, creating new tracking and accountability systems, and putting other critical components into place that will serve it well in the years to come,” the report states.

In regard to investigations, the monitoring team in its report said “the single most important quality lacking at this stage is candor, that is, the willingness to investigate these cases objectively and deal with issues in a forthright manner.”

Police and city officials said that improving investigations into police officers who use force will be the next priority of the reform effort.

The independent monitor is “starting to point out the use-of-force investigations and are the supervisors catching the things that need to be improved,” City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said. “And that’s where we know as a department and the city that the next round of effort and attention and resources needs to go.”

The monitoring team, made up of former police officials and others who have helped reform other troubled police departments around the country, homed in on one troubling case in particular – an officer kneed a suspected car thief in the head and knocked the person unconscious in October 2015 – and will release a special report on that single case later this month. The reason for a special report on this particular case is because it involved every level of the Albuquerque police force’s oversight system.

The 350-page report released Friday from James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing reforms, said the officer who struck the suspect violated at least one policy and maybe others. But the case wasn’t thoroughly investigated by the officer’s chain of command. Albuquerque police at multiple levels are missing opportunities to catch and address problems with officers involved in use-of-force cases, it said.

“Across the board, the monitoring team has found that the components in APD’s system for overseeing (and holding officers accountable for) the use of force, for the most part, has failed,” the report states.

Eden said the officer’s lieutenant began investigating within two weeks after the incident, and a probe was launched. The officer, who is not named, is awaiting a hearing.

Eden also pointed out that, in late May, higher-ranking officers completed supervisory investigation training.

“We’re fully committed. Every time the monitor has called us and said ‘I want to suggest this,’ we’ve taken those suggestions seriously,” he said. “We are headed down the track, I think, very, very well.”

While reviewing police data on use-of-force cases, the report said, some troubling patterns were found, such as one officer who had three “out of policy” uses of force in a short time period. The report didn’t identify the officer or go into details about how he or she violated the use-of-force policy.

And the report said the supervisors often minimized or rationalized use-of-force cases that were at odds with department policy.

The report was the third from the monitoring team. The reports are being released about every three months and the first two were critical of the policy development process within the department.

Friday’s report details the department’s progress from December 2015 through March 2016. Though critical of supervisory investigations, the report lauded the department’s specialized units, like the SWAT team, and said they have some of the best policies developed by Albuquerque police. It also said the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and its director, Edward Harness, are holding officers accountable for their actions.

Another improvement within the department identified in the report is that Albuquerque police have a refined policy-making process within the department, a topic scrutinized in the prior reports.

Hernandez said that was important.

“I thought that showed APD is responsive to the monitor’s concerns,” Hernandez said. “It shows that, when the monitoring team identifies an area of concern, APD is very responsive to focus in on that concern. And I think we’ll see that as we shift into the next phase.”

That will mean creating a culture of accountability, which the monitoring team said the department currently lacks.

Albuquerque police are putting in place a series of court-enforceable reforms as part of a settlement between the city and the Department of Justice. The effort was brought on by a DOJ investigation that found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force and a culture of aggression.

An independent monitoring team observes APD’s progress and writes periodic reports. The monitor and his team report to U.S. District Judge Robert Brack, who is overseeing the reforms.

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