The City of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Monitor overseeing the consent decree and the reform efforts entered into a negotiated stipulated agreement that makes changes to the DOJ consent decree and modifies how police use of force cases will be investigated.
The changes were outlined in a document filed with the Federal Court last week.
The agree to changes creates a specialized unit to investigate and scrutinize officers who strike or kick people or use more serious levels of force.
The specialize unit will concentrate on expediting the review of use of force cases.
PAST FEDERAL MONITOR REPORTS
Investigations of use of force and excessive force by command staff have been the biggest source of problems with APD command staff that has resulted in severe criticism of APD by the Federal Monitor in his reports to the Federal Judge.
The July 1, 2016 federal monitor’s third report states “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.
THREE LEVEL CLASSIFICATIONS FOR USE OF FORCE
The changes outlined include a three-level classification system for use of force and clarifying how police officers would respond to each level of use of force.
Previously for any use of force instance, no matter the level of force used, a complete and full investigation that included separating arresting officers for interviews and identifying and interviewing for witnesses was required, all of which was labor intensive and time consuming.
There are three levels of use of force instances defined.
Level 1 “use of force” instances are defined as force that does not result in an injury and “that is likely to cause only transitory pain, disorientation, or discomfort.”
In other words, a level one “use of force” does not involve the infliction of bodily harm or injuries that may be sustained.
A Level 2 use-of-force instance could include striking or kicking a criminal suspect.
A Level 3 use-of-force would include using an electronic control weapon (TAZER) against a handcuffed criminal suspect or during a police shooting.
Under the agreed to changes, APD Sergeants will do a review, and not a complete investigation, of “Level 1” use of force instances.
One of the major arguments made to justify the changes was that sergeants were required to spend hours being part of an investigation of any and all types use-of-force case.
The changes should free up patrol officers to respond to calls for service.
Under the new policy, a supervisor, usually a sargeant, will review the officer’s lapel camera on scene, which police can do using their cellphones.
Within 72 hours of the incident, the supervisor is required to review police reports, documents, on-body camera footage and any other evidence involved with the use of force incident and then write an evaluation on whether policies were followed.
The final report is then required to be sent further up the chain of command.
Final evaluation reports will be filed with a separate bureau that is tasked with ensuring Albuquerque police are following the requirements of the settlement agreement and constitutional policing practices.
FORCE INVESTIGATION SECTION
If more serious force is used, including if officers strike or kick people that may or could result in physical injury, the investigation will be turned over to the APD “Force Investigative Section” already set up under the consent decree.
According to the court pleading, the Force Investigation Section:
“… will conduct investigations in a rigorous manner, evaluate all evidence, determine whether the force was consistent with APD policy, and identify any policy, training, tactical or equipment concerns. … Having all Level 2 and Level 3 force investigated by a centralized unit will ensure uniformity and promote greater consistency in investigations, addressing long-standing concerns with variability in the quality of force investigations at APD.”
According to the court pleading filed the changes “will improve the quality of force investigations, clarify reporting requirements, and reduce burdens on front-line supervisors, while promoting the overall objectives of the … settlement agreement.”
The agreed to changes will shift the burden of use-of-force investigations from in-the-field supervisors to detectives who specialize in such investigations.
Assigning Level 2 and Level 3 force incidents to the Force Investigation Section should allow APD to quickly and efficiently identify and resolve any problematic trends in officers’ use of force.
Under the previous policy, sergeants were required to spend hours being part of any use of force investigation, no matter the level of force identified.
Federal Court appointed Monitor James Ginger said the proposed changes would bring the police in line with recommendations he has been making since he started auditing the department by saying:
“It is the monitor’s opinion that the proposed changes … substantially increase the probability of successful response by APD to problematic uses of force observed in the field. …”
The Federal Monitor’s response to the changes is in sharp contrast to what has been said in the past and indicates progress is now being made with the reform effort.
APD will now have to develop policies and train officers about the changes before taking effect.