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No changes yet in work on APD reforms

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A U.S. Department of Justice attorney litigating the Albuquerque Police Department reform case said his team hasn’t been told to change its approach, despite the attorney general’s call for a review of all ongoing consent decrees.

During an April 6 conference call about the Albuquerque police reform effort, U.S. District Judge Robert Brack asked DOJ attorneys about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memorandum that called for the DOJ to review all existing and contemplated consent decrees, according to a transcript of the call. APD is among about 20 law enforcement agencies throughout the country that are operating under court-enforceable outlines for police reforms, though the outline here is usually called a settlement agreement.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack

Brack, who is presiding over reforms, said he wanted a “heads up” if any policy changes were being considered.

“We have not gotten any direction – any change of direction from where we have been. We will continue to enforce the agreements,” said Luis Saucedo, an attorney in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “We have not gotten word that we’re going any other direction other than to continue as we have been.”

Sessions, who has been critical of DOJ interventions into police departments across the country, issued a memorandum made public earlier this month that called for a review of all consent decrees to make sure they align with the administration’s goals and principles for the DOJ.

Those goals included improving officer safety and morale, ensuring that public safety is an honorable career, fighting crime and promoting civil rights, he said.

Sessions’ comments raised concerns among many advocates for police reform in Albuquerque and Mayor Richard Berry said the department remains committed to the settlement agreement.

In the memo, Sessions said the “misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”

The DOJ announced in 2014 that its investigation into Albuquerque police found systemic problems within the department, including a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression.” The city and the DOJ then negotiated a settlement agreement that outlines numerous tasks for APD, which include retraining officers.

New Mexico’s two senators have also raised concerns about Sessions’ comments.

Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, joined 14 other senators who wrote Sessions a letter last week saying his comments about consent decrees threatened to undo years of work reforming police departments around the country.

“We expect a lot out of the people who serve in blue every day, and they deserve an enormous amount of respect for the kind of work they do. But we also have to hold them to the highest standards. I don’t think the attorney general always understands that balance,” Heinrich told the Journal .

“He is the chief law enforcement officer for the United States of America. … He really needs to set a tone that is representative of the entire nation.”