The headlines “City sees highest number of murders in 20 years”, “…gruesome killings were among the 61 reported last year” are very disturbing. (For full story see January 8, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, https://www.abqjournal.com/923137/city-sees-highest-number-of-murders-in-20-years.html)
As upsetting were the gruesome murders of children we had, a 20 year high in murders for one year is not the full story. Albuquerque has become one of the most violent cities in the Country. In 2015, murders in Albuquerque spiked by 53%. Since 2010, Albuquerque’s violent and property crime rates dramatically increased by 14% to 20% percent. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 2015 Albuquerque’s violent crime rates increased by 9.2% and property crime rates increased by 11.5%.
APD officers have shot over 41 people with close to $50 million paid in police misconduct cases and excessive use of force cases. The number of APD sworn officers has fallen from 1,100 in 2009 to 850 in 2016. Only 430 sworn officers are assigned to field services responding to 69,000 priority one 911 emergency calls a year.
Albuquerque needs 1,200 sworn police officers to effectively return to community based policing that will reduce crime. Yet all we get from a feckless city administration are excuses. Excuses are what you can expect when you appoint a political operative Chief of Police who has no prior experience managing a municipal police department.
APD is severely understaffed and struggling to implement expansive and expensive Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to and mandated reforms.The Federal Monitor has found that “APD’s system for overseeing and holding officers accountable for the use of force has failed and the serious deficiencies revealed point to a deeply-rooted systemic problem”. The Federal Monitor has also found that the “deficiencies, in part, indicate a culture of low accountability is at work within APD, particularly in chain-of-command reviews.”
More must be done to aggressively implement the DOJ reforms, solve the staffing shortages and address APD’s leadership crisis.
A PROPOSED SOLUTION
The City Council by ordinance can create a Department of Public Safety with an appointed civilian Police Commissioner. The Police Commissioner would be appointed by the Mayor with advice and consent of the City Council. The Chief of Police would be appointed by the Police Commissioner but serve at the pleasure of the Mayor with advice and consent of the City Council. The Police Commissioner would assume direct civilian oversight, management and control of APD.
A national search for a Police Commissioner and Chief of Police needs to be conducted. A Police Commissioner and Chief with extensive and proven leadership in managing a municipal police department must be hired, not political operatives.
The civilian Police Commissioner would assume primary responsibility for implementation of all the DOJ-mandated reforms and only be removed for cause by the Mayor. The Police Commissioner would completely overhaul and restructure APD, appoint new chiefs, commanders, lieutenants, academy director and a 911 manager and each would report directly to the Chief of Police, with the Police Commissioner in the Chain of Command as the Commissioner determines to be necessary and appropriate to carry out his or her duties.
The civilian Police Commissioner would be responsible for preparing budgets, personnel management and enforcement of personnel policies and procedures and imposing personnel disciplinary action. The Chief of Police would be responsible for day-to-day operations of APD, public safety initiatives and management of sworn staff and report directly to the civilian Police Commissioner.
The Public Safety Department would consist of four civilian staffed divisions and managed by the Police Commissioner:
1. Personnel and training, for recruiting, hiring, internal affairs investigations and police academy;
2. Budget and finance;
3. Information technology support and crime lab; and
4. 911 emergency operations center with a civilian manager.
“Deadly use of force” cases would continue to be investigated by the Critical Incident Review Team and the final reports with finding and recommendations submitted to the Police Commissioner.
The APD Internal Affairs Unit would be abolished. The investigation of police misconduct cases including excessive use of force cases not resulting in death or nor serious bodily harm would be done by “civilian” personnel investigators. The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by police would be assumed by the Office of Independent Council in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary. The Office of Independent Council would make findings and recommendations to the Police Commissioner for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.
The city needs to fund and implement a non-negotiated major hourly rate increase of up to 15% to 20% percent for sworn officers, excluding management, to improve recruitment, retention and morale. Sign on bonuses, tuition debt payoff and mortgage down payment bonuses need to be offered to new recruits. Yearly experienced officer retention bonuses must be made permanent.
APD needs to “triple down” on recruitment and dramatically increase the size and number of police academy classes per year.If necessary, the City Council needs to consider another public safety tax submitted to voters for approval to pay for APD’s staffing expansion, pay incentive programs, needed training programs, DOJ-mandated reforms, equipment acquisitions and 911 emergency operations, staffing and equipment.
Until aggressive action is taken with APD and the Department of Justice mandated and agreed to reforms, APD will continue to spin out of control, violent crime will continue to rise and Albuquerque will continue to see dramatic spikes in crime.