ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The independent monitor overseeing Albuquerque police reform said in a new report that the lack of scrutiny the department’s highest ranking officers give use-of-force cases is “mystifying” and “startling.”
James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing reform, said in the report’s summary that his team has noticed a “palpable shift” in the police department’s approach to changes. The report was critical of the department’s high-ranking supervisors and command-level officers, accusing them of “deliberate non-compliance” in some cases.
“There seems to be no one person, unit, or group with responsibility and command authority to ‘make change happen,’ ” the report states.
But the monitor’s report also indicates that police are making progress on some fronts. It says that police have achieved “primary compliance” with 93 percent of the tasks outlined in the settlement agreement between Albuquerque and the Department of Justice, and police have achieved “operational compliance” with 47 percent of the reforms.
The report credited Albuquerque police for its use of electronic control weapons, its Behavioral Sciences Unit and crisis intervention training.
City Attorney Jessica Hernandez in an interview said the compliance percentages, which increased significantly in the latest report, suggest the police are moving in the right direction, so she didn’t know why Ginger was reporting the department was shifting its position on reforms.
“I’m not sure why he would say that. It is sort of interesting to see the contrast between his narrative as opposed to just the raw compliance findings,” Hernandez said. “If you look at the raw numbers … it’s just undeniable progress.”
The report, filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, covered APD’s reform efforts from August 2016 through January 2017. There is a status conference to discuss the report May 10 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack.
Brack is presiding over a yearslong reform effort underway at APD. The department has to make court-approved changes to police tactics, training and supervision as a result of a DOJ investigation that found Albuquerque police too often used excessive force.
Ginger and his team monitor police progress and periodically file reports that outline what the department has and hasn’t accomplished. Tuesday’s was the fifth report.
Albuquerque police in a news release pointed out that the number of times officers have fired their weapons in the line of duty has declined significantly since 2010.
“APD has made progress in all areas of the settlement agreement. As the Monitor has stated, ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint,’ ” Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement. “Our goal has been and will continue to be sustained, long-term compliance and reform in all areas” of the settlement agreement.
APD Forward, a coalition of community groups who advocate for police reform, denounced the department’s leadership for what it called its “deliberate non-compliance” with the settlement agreement.
APD Forward spokesperson Laurie Weahkee, who is the executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance, said leadership has appeared to push back against reforms from the beginning.
“Little has changed since then. In some ways, it’s gotten worse,” she said. “If Chief Eden and his senior staff won’t take responsibility for advancing these critical changes to the way APD officers use force, Mayor (Richard) Berry should find police professionals who will.”
APD Forward plans to release a full analysis of the monitor’s report sometime next week, but officials said Tuesday that some aspects of the report were “especially concerning,” said Steven Robert Allen, the director of public policy at the ACLU of New Mexico.
“It’s no surprise that accountability is a critical problem with APD when Chief Eden is publicly blaming judges and the press for problems within his Department,” he said in a statement. “This unwillingness of Chief Eden and his command staff to embrace reform or to demand accountability from the Department is preventing APD from moving towards true and lasting culture change.”
The most recent report included a review of 16 random use-of-force cases during the reporting period. It found significant problems with three of those cases.
But the team found a deeper problem with how the highest ranking officers reviewed the cases.
“Based on the incidents reviewed by the monitoring team this reporting period zero percent of command personnel, who should have ordered additional investigation to resolve inconsistencies and improve the reliability and credibility of supervisory personnel’s use of force investigations, did so!” the report states. “Few systems can survive such a failure rate.”
‘Black hole’ at APD
The monitoring team reported that during a site visit, it asked to meet with the department’s internal affairs unit and the Critical Incident Response Team to discuss problems with three use-of-force cases referred to in the report. But when the team met with officers from those units to discuss the cases, the monitoring team was given a memo that said Internal Affairs and CIRT didn’t review the cases, according to the report.
“Thus, it is clear that, despite clearly articulated monitoring team concerns about this case, it had dropped into a ‘black hole’ at APD,” the report states.
In one particular issue addressed in the report, the monitoring team said Albuquerque police officials have refused to change a particular policy concerning neck holds, despite specific instructions from the monitoring team.
“In the opinion of the monitor, such deliberate resistance, despite multiple discussions and debate of the topic, and despite clear and unequivocal definitional guidance in the (settlement agreement) constitutes deliberate non-compliance on the part of APD and the City,” the report states. “Non-compliance on this issue comes from the command-level at APD.”
Eden said in a statement that he disagreed with the monitor’s assessment and that the department’s command staff was not opposed to a policy change.
“The command staff has never been resistant to prohibiting neck holds as they are defined in the settlement agreement,” Eden said. “The command staff asked the monitoring team and parties to discuss the difference between incidental contact with the neck versus an actual neck hold. This is an important distinction that the Department should not be penalized for raising as a topic for discussion.”