DOJ Reforms Dropped Into APD Black Hole

On May 2, 2017, Federal Monitor James Ginger issued his fifth report on the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) progress on implementing the Department of Justice (DOJ) mandated reforms under the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). (See also May 3, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, “Monitor faults APD leaders; But report says police are in “primary compliance with 93 percent of tasks”.)

The May 2, 2017 fifth report covers the time frame of August 2016 to January, 2017.

In his fifth report, Federal Monitor James Ginger says the lack of scrutiny given by the department’s highest ranking officer’s in use of force cases is “mystifying” and “startling”.

The report is very critical of APD’s high ranking supervisors and command-level officers, accusing them of “deliberate non-compliance”.

Ginger reports his team noticed a “palpable shift” in the police department’s approach to reform and found supervisors and command-level officers made too many lapses when reviewing use-of-force cases.

What is truly “startling” and “mystifying” is that the Federal Monitor was at all surprised by the actions of the command staff and management of APD when implementing the DOJ reforms.

The Berry Administration, Chief Eden and his command staff lack of commitment to the DOJ mandated reforms is documented in the second, third and the fourth progress reports submitted by Federal Monitor James Ginger to the Federal Court.

In his second report to the federal court, Federal Monitor James Ginger accused the City Attorney of what he called, “delay, do little and deflect” tactics saying his relationship with her was “a little rougher than most” compared with top attorneys in other cities and where he has overseen police reform.

Just ten (10) months ago in his July 1, 2016 third progress report of Albuquerque Police Department (APD) on the DOJ consent decree, Ginger found “Across the board … the components in APD’s system for overseeing and holding officers accountable for the use of force, for the most part, has failed … the serious deficiencies revealed point to a deeply-rooted systemic problem. … The deficiencies, in part, indicate a culture [of] low accountability is at work within APD, particularly in chain-of-command reviews.”

The November 1, 2016 fourth federal monitor’s report states that when “excessive use of force” incidents are investigated by the APD Critical Incident Team, it“ [deploys] carefully worded excuses, apparently designed not to find fault with officer actions” and “[uses] language and terminology apparently designed to absolve officers and supervisors of their responsibility to follow certain CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement] related provisions.

The most damning and disturbing findings made by the Federal Monitor in his fifth report are that APD “subverted” the reform process by issuing “covert special orders,” denying the existence of the orders, and APD exhibiting a “near total failure” to accept civilian oversight.

The report states that the monitoring team during a site visit asked to meet with APD Internal Affairs (IA) and the Critical Incident Response Team (CIT) to discuss problems with use of force cases, one in particular, and the monitoring team was told neither IA nor CIT had reviewed the case, prompting the monitor to report “despite clearly articulated monitoring team concerns about this case, it had dropped into a “black hole” at APD.

Keep in mind, it was some 16 APD police officer involved shootings and APD’s use of force that lead to the Deapartment of Justice (DOJ) investigation into APD and the finding of a “culture of aggression” resulting in all the mandated reforms under a court approved settlement agreement (CASA).

The federal monitor lays direct blame on the APD command staff for the “deliberate non-compliance” with APD’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The report says “zero percent of the command personnel, who should have ordered additional investigation to resolve inconsistencies and improve reliability and credibility of supervisory personnel’s use-of-force investigations, did so! Few systems can survive such a failure rate.”

The monitor report states “There seems to be no one person, unit, or group with responsibility and command authority to make change happen”. Really Dr. Ginger, really?

Three years ago after the DOJ consent decree was signed, Chief Gordon Eden, Eden’s appointed Assistant Chief Huntsman and APD Deputies represented to the monitor and the City Council they were taking on the responsibility of implementing the reforms under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).

Chief Eden went as far as to say “we’re going to take the department well beyond any findings the DOJ has”.

Where Eden has taken APD is further into the ditch.

It’s apparent that the only thing that has changed at APD is the passage of time and paying the Federal Monitor another hefty sum of money for another report that he could have just as easily cut and pasted from his last report.

Still no solutions or proposals from the Federal Monitor Ginger, but he says that’s not his job according to the DOJ consent decree and that is not why he is being paid millions.

For the fifth time in three (3) years, the Federal Monitor’s report reflects that you get failed law enforcement management when you appoint a Chief of Police who has absolutely no prior experience managing a municipal police department and who is considered a “political operative”.

This is what happens when you keep or return people who created participated or did not stop the culture of aggression and the “deeply-rooted systemic problems” found by the Department of Justice.

The Mayor and City Council continue to refuse holding APD Chief Gordon Eden and his command staff accountable for their failures in implementing the DOJ mandated reforms.

The entire chain of command of APD must be removed and replaced by the next Mayor with a new generation of leadership and not from within the ranks of APD.

A national search needs to be conducted to identify and hire a new Chief of Police, to hire new Deputy Chiefs and a new chain of command to assume control of APD.

The Albuquerque City Council has abdicated its oversight authority over APD for the last seven years and it needs to stop.

The City Council can implement complete civilian authority and management control over APD with a civilian Police Commissioner to assume responsibility for implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms and create a Department of Public Safety.

APD has repeatedly shown it cannot police itself and there is a need to “civilianize” the APD Internal Affairs functions to investigate police misconduct cases and use of force cases, and to implement the Department of Justice reforms.

The APD Internal Affairs Unit should be abolished.

The investigation of police misconduct cases including excessive use of force cases not resulting in death or nor serious bodily harm should be done by “civilian” personnel investigators.

The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by police should be assumed by the Office of Independent Council in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary.

Until there is a real change in the entire APD command staff, we can expect to continue to be “mystified” and “startled” by the lack of progress and implementation of the DOJ consent decree mandated reforms and the disappearance of the DOJ reforms into the “black hole” known as APD.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.