I attended the May 10, 2016 day long hearing before US District Judge Robert Brack to listen to Federal Monitor James Ginger’s 5th report on the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) implementation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) mandated reforms.
(See also May 11, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “DOJ credits APD with “remarkable progress”; Judge and others concerned by harsh criticism in monitor’s report”.)
The fifth report is the most critical report to date and blames the APD command staff for “deliberate noncompliance” with the DOJ mandated reforms.
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”.
According to Ginger, there has been a “palpable shift” in the police department’s approach to the reform process and supervisors and command-level officers have made too many lapses when reviewing use-of-force cases.
The Monitor reported that after two years significant progress has been made with drafting of “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies and training.
It was noted that officer involved shooting over the last 3 years have been significantly reduced.
Notwithstanding the progress made with policy and training, the Monitor emphasized during the hearing that the most critical part of the entire reform process is the “supervisor use of force investigations” done by the chain of command and it is where “the rubber hits the road”.
During the hearing, Ginger stated that there is a “disconnect” between APD sergeants, lieutenants and commanders with regards to use of force investigations.
According to the Monitor, there was a 94% failure rate by the chain of command to order additional investigations of police use of force cases when it was appropriate in the cases reviewed by the monitor’s team.
Further, there is an 87% failure rate by supervisors and commanders to actually do use of force investigations.
“Failed oversight by the command level results in little corrective action” reported the Monitor.
APD reported that there are 844 sworn police officers currently employed with 488 assigned to field services along with 37 public safety aides.
APD is fully funded for 1,000 sworn officers and therefore APD is short staffed by 156 sworn officers.
It is the 488 field service officers, spread out over three (3) shifts, or 168 officers per shift, that handle 2,000 calls for service a day and 69,000 priority one calls per year, assuming no officer has called in sick, on vacation or in court and unavailable to take calls for service.
In other words, there are 456 sworn officers that handle criminal investigations or that are in the command staff.
Frankly, there simply is no real excuse for the APD command staff’s failure to do use of force investigations other than resistance to the reform process.
The most damning and disturbing findings made by the Federal Monitor were that APD “subverted” the reform process by issuing “covert special orders” and then denying the existence of the orders.
The problem is that the “covert special order” had to be brought up during the hearing by the Court, and not the Monitor.
Judge Brack asked Ginger point blank why during his presentation he did not mention either the special order or his allegation that APD had been in deliberate non-compliance with the settlement agreement.
“I can’t have that attitude, the process can’t have that attitude,” said Judge Brack of the alleged non-compliance to the parties.
Ginger said he stood by all his findings.
According to Ginger, APD had to be asked several times for information on the order before supplying it.
“I’m concerned about asking several times and not getting responses. I hope it is over” said Ginger.
During the hearing, the US Attorney praised the Albuquerque Police Department’s progress in reforming itself despite the Monitor’s recent report that APD has deliberately undermined the reform process.
Assistant United State Attorney Luis Saucedo with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., praised APD’s “tremendous progress.”
Judge Brack did not seem to be impressed with Saucedo’s praise of APD when he said “There is an elephant in this room that is not being addressed, the mention of the deliberate non-compliance in the monitor’s report by APD.”
Judge Brack asked if the Department of Justice is changing its approach to the Albuquerque consent decree and the reform efforts given that US Attorney Jeff Sessions has said that the DOJ will be backing off consent decrees throughout the country involving police excessive use of force investigations.
It appears that is indeed the case in Albuquerque, despite Saucedo’s assurances to the contrary.
We are lucky that the Federal Court has the jurisdiction to enforce the consent decree against APD despite DOJ’s wishes or plans, and despite US Attorney Jeff Sessions change in policy.
Frankly, I was shocked and disturbed by the total turn around by the US Attorney’s office and how it went out of the way to complement APD.
US Attorney Luis Saucedo came up with reasons for APD to issue a “covert special order” to subvert the reform process, their denial of it and their withholding of it from the Federal Monitor.
It was as if the United States Attorney was representing the City and APD and not the people of Albuquerque in what is an adversarial process.
Assistant US Attorney Luis Saucedo reminded me of Sgt. Schultz in the classic TV show Hogan’s Hero’s who said “I see nothing, I hear nothing”.
Another elephant that was not in the courtroom is that we will have a new Mayor and new management at APD come December 1, 2017.
I was downright disappointed, but not at all surprised, that not a single one of the nine (9) candidates for Mayor even bothered to show up and listen to at least the first hour when the Federal Monitor gave his report.
The candidates for Mayor want to talk about “all crime all the time” and ride in on their white horse and say they will replace Chief Eden, increase the size of APD and bring down crime.
The truth is, no candidate for Mayor wants to come to grips with the real problems of APD for fear of offending law enforcement and those who support APD, and fear of loosing votes and address the importance of implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms.
All the candidates for Mayor need to articulate and say just how much they are committed to solving the problems with APD and their commitment to the DOJ mandated reforms.