High crime rates, public safety, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Department of Justice reforms and civilian oversight were the biggest issues debated in the 2017 Mayor’s race.
Mayor Tim Keller has made personnel changes to the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) in effort to turn the department around and reform it and implement the Department of Justice reforms.
If the Keller Administration continues on the same path with APD, what we are really dealing with are no major changes in management style.
THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REFORMS
Mayor Keller made a very public and strong commitment to implementing the Department of Justice reforms mandated by the consent decree.
The effort has been concentrating on trying to satisfy the federal court appointed monitor which is nothing more than trying to reverse the course set by the Berry Administration.
During the last three years, the Berry administration and APD command staff resisted the consent decree reforms, even though they were the ones that took a full year to negotiate the consent decree at a cost of at least $1 million.
Since taking office, Keller has met with the Federal Monitor and appeared before the Federal Court assuring them both that APD will implement the mandated reforms.
Truth is, the Keller Administration and APD have absolutely no choice but to implement the reforms and comply with the stipulated agreement in order to get out from under the consent decree.
Thus far, implementing the consent decree has cost taxpayers at least $4 million.
You can anticipate the reform process will take at least another three years to implement and probably another $4 million.
Under the Keller Administration, the Federal Monitor is now providing “technical assistance” to APD.
Under the Keller Administration, APD has also created a compliance bureau.
Both the monitors technical assistance and the compliance bureau should have been done three years ago from the get go when the Federal monitor first came to Albuquerque.
NEW FACES ARE OLD FACES OF MANAGEMENT
Appointing a new interim police chief who is a retired APD commander and former Rio Rancho Police Chief really is not changing the traditional way of managing APD.
Chief Michael Geier’s appointment is a throwback to former APD Chief Ray Schulz and Gordon Eden management styles.
The obvious big difference is Chief Geier has stronger management skills that he performs with honesty and integrity free from personal vendetta or political agendas totally unlike his two predecessors.
Notwithstanding the work Chief Geier is performing, Candidate Keller said if elected, he would do a national search for a new APD Police Chief and make sweeping changes to the department.
However, after 5 months in office, there has been no announcement of a national search committee nor of the process that will be used to hire a permanent chief.
APD insiders and city hall observers are suggesting that Mayor Keller has already decided to keep Interim Chief Geier and make him permanent but Keller wants to hold off announcing that fact until both have been on the job a full year.
A few have said that it was during the election Keller made the commitment to Chief Geier to keep him a full year when he asked him to become interim Chief.
Replacing the APD command staff was a good start, but still there is nothing new about it.
Chief Geier and his Deputy Chiefs represent the “old guard” of APD style of management.
The “new” command staff is more of a reflection of APD’s past.
The “new” command staff, especially all the Deputy Chiefs, are not outsiders at all but have been with APD for some time.
The Deputy Chiefs of Police appointed by Mayor Keller include Harold Medina who retired from APD as commander after serving 20 years, Rogelio Banez who was the area commander in southwest Albuquerque, and Eric Garcia who was a Deputy Chief under APD Chief Gordon Eden.
Deputy Chief Eric Garcia has received high marks for his work on the DOJ reforms, but once again he was part of the previous administration’s management team and eligible to retire.
The new command staff do not reflect a new generation of police officer fully committed and trained in constitutional policing.
All the previous commanders under the Berry Administration have been shuffled around with a few retiring, with no firm commitment, at least not yet announced, that they will be kept as commanders.
There has been an elimination of the positions of Major which was created a mere 3 years ago by the previous administration.
The new reorganization of APD under Mayor Keller is a remarkable look alike consisting of even older faces replacing the old faces under former Chiefs Ray Schultz and Chief Gordon Eden and people brought up through the ranks of APD over the last 20 years.
WASTING MANGEMENT SKILLS
On February 25, 2018, the one thing Mayor Keller did different or new with the Department of Justice reforms was the appointment of former New Mexico State Treasurer, former Governor Bruce King’s Chief of Staff and former Mayor Chavez CAO James Lewis as “Senior Advisor for Public Safety.”
The appointment of Lewis was well received by the general public because James Lewis has an earned and proven track record of honesty and integrity.
James Lewis brings to the table institutional knowledge on how to clean up a trouble department as he did with the New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office, skills that are definitely needed with APD.
James Lewis was appointed to oversee police reform and help implement community policing but has been given little civilian authority over APD.
According to Mayor Keller in a news release at the time the appointment was made, James Lewis was appointed to “bring civilian perspectives to the table as our police department works to implement the Department of Justice reforms” thus reflecting merely an advisory role.
A civilian perspective is not what is needed and what is needed is genuine civilian oversight of APD.
James Lewis must work with APD as it formulates a community policing plan by making sure that affected communities are involved, especially minority communities, and he is also tasked with working with the Community Policing Councils.
James Lewis has been compelled to learn about the consent decree, the DOJ reforms as well as the community Policing Counsels seeing as none existed 10 years ago when he left city hall to work for President Barack Obama in his Administration.
APD is a far different department than it was 10 years ago when James Lewis was Chief Administrative Officer under Mayor Martin Chaves with a significant turnover in personnel due to retirements.
As a Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) retiree, James Lewis was given a $75,000 contract that had to be approved by PERA.
Under PERA retirement laws and regulations in order to avoid having his retirement suspended, Mr. Lewis is prohibited from being a full-time city hall employee and prohibited from having any direct management duties and responsibilities over city personnel.
Mr. Lewis does not report directly to Mayor Tim Keller, but to the Chief Administrative Officer and he is assigned to the APD Compliance Bureau.
What is disappointing is that James Lewis has been given absolutely no authority nor control over APD policy and procedures.
James Lewis cannot make any meaningful policy decisions or give orders to the command staff relating to implementation of the DOJ reforms.
The limited or lack of authority given to James Lewis undercuts his ability and scope of what he can do to implement the DOJ reforms.
James Lewis has been relegated to a public relations position to represent the Administration at meetings and court proceedings.
Mayor Keller hopefully will recognize that there is a waste of management skills Mr. Lewis possesses that could be better used to rebuild APD.
UNION RESISTANCE TO USE OF FORCE POLICY CHANGES AND REFORMS
On Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller did a press conference along with his newly appointed Interim Police Chief and command staff.
Before the Mayor Keller discussed his plans for APD, the mayor announced he had a few apologies to make.
What Mayor Keller said in part was:
“I also want to tell the victims of families who have been hurt by unnecessary use of force that I am sorry, and that we are sorry as your city government. We will work every day to restore trust in our community.”
“Secondly, we also need to apologize for our skyrocketing crime rates. I have heard from hundreds of folks who don’t feel safe and who worry about their families every day. And I want to acknowledge to all the victims of crime in this city and to all the families who have fallen victim to crime that we have let you down in many ways. Public safety is a critical function of government, and we must do better and it starts with owning up to that today.”
A few days after the Mayor’s press conference, Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) President and APD Police Officer Shaun Willoughby claimed his membership were upset that Mayor Keller apologized to the citizens of Albuquerque for APD’s “culture of excessive use of force” over the years.
What was particularly egregious and offensive was when Willouby declared Mayor Keller “dishonorable” and said on camera:
“It’s important to understand that the APOA is not a political organization. I’m actually employed by the cops that we serve. … I don’t think that the APOA having discontent is wrong or reminding anybody that we felt that, that was dishonorable to apologize for a group of police officers.”
What truly is dishonorable is the unions political motivations, especially when it comes to the DOJ reforms.
If APOA is not a political organization as Officer Willoughby claims, it had absolutely no business endorsing anyone for Mayor.
The police union endorsement in many respects politicized APD even further.
The police union is not a named party to the original civil lawsuit filed against the city and APD by the Department of Justice (DOJ) but the union is an intervenor in the lawsuit.
In general, intervention in a court procedure allows a nonparty, called intervenor to join ongoing litigation, either as a matter of right or at the discretion of the court, without the permission of the original litigants.
The police union was given a place at the negotiating table for the consent decree implementation and the drafting of new policies.
It took almost a full year to negotiate “use of force” and “use of deadly” force policies.
The police union demanded to be at the negotiating table for “use of force” and “use of deadly” force policies as an intervenor to give input and the union contributed to the delay.
The police union along with their attorney have appeared at virtually all the Federal Court monitor status conference hearings.
The police union president has never missed an opportunity to complain to the federal court during the Federal Monitor James Ginger status reports about how the DOJ consent decree and the use of force policies impedes and interferes with police officer’s ability to do their jobs.
When the previous Berry Administration attempted to have the Federal Monitor removed making false allegations he was biased, the police union remained silent and took no position on his removal.
When the federal judge publicly admonished the former city attorney and the former command staff for the secret recording of the federal monitor’s confidential conversations in order to allege he was biased, the union once again stood silent.
Recently, the police union released a poll of its membership and asked virtually no questions about the DOJ consent decree and the implementation of the reforms.
No questions were asked in the union poll if the use of force policies were working or interfering with job duties.
The result is that the union resistance to the change under the DOJ consent decree and in use of force policies undermines the implementation process of effective constitutional policing practices.
Mayor Tim Keller was swept into office with a 62% vote landslide giving him a mandate for change.
Keller promised to make sweeping, visionary change to APD and its management.
Mayor Keller needs to keep his promise made during the election and commence a Chief selection process and conduct a national search for a new Chief of Police and Deputy Chiefs to take over within in 8 months, or sooner.
Senior Advisor for Public Safety James Lewis is more than capable of leading the Chief selection process, deal with recruitment issues and expand and improve civilian oversight of APD.
The Keller Administration needs to consider and revisit what role the police union should actually play and be involved with in negotiating with the Department of Justice and implementation of the DOJ reforms.
Until a far more aggressive approach is taken, APD will be no better off a year from now than it is now, which will be a damn shame given that voters are expecting so much more.