During the July 12, 2018 regular meeting of the City’s Police Oversight Board, APD Chief Michael Geier made a presentation regarding the practices and methods used to hire and train APD Homicide Detectives.
APD Chief Michael Geier, along with APD Commander Paul Duran, may not have used the term and may not have realized it, but basically announced perhaps the beginning of the end of the “good-ol boy” system in the hiring, selection or promotion of detectives.
The Police Oversight Board requested Chief Geier to make the presentation after extensive media reports surrounding the investigation of the murder case of 10-year old Victoria Martens who was raped, murdered, dismembered and burned in her home.
District Attorney Raul Torrez announced he was force to dismiss numerous felony charges against the three suspects in the murder case because of severe deficiencies in the evidence gathering and interviews conducted by the APD Homicide Unit in the murder case.
“GOOD OLD BOY” PATH TO BECOME DETECTIVE
Chief Geier along with APD Commander Paul Duran of the Homicide Unit made the presentation to the Police Oversight Board.
Geier and Duran discussed the practice for selecting and training homicide detectives.
Areas discussed with the board ranged from how crimes are investigated, to who is deemed qualified enough to investigate certain crimes, and the training involved for those officers wanting to become detectives.
Currently, any police officer who has a desire to become a Detective in the Homicide Unit can, so long as they seek certain types of training that detectives would need, such as interrogation and criminal investigations courses made available to them.
According to Chief Geier the current practice is for sworn police officers to go from field services to detective, with both position being essentially the same with respect to rank.
The only difference between a uniformed police officer and a detective is that one wears a badge, a police uniform and carries a gun while the other has the title “detective” and wears civilian clothes, carries a gun and badge.
Chief Geier made it clear that at this point becoming a detective is considered a lateral move and not a promotion.
The current practice has been that police officers do not receive a promotion or raise if they become a detective.
Police Officers aspiring to become detectives have to take it upon themselves to enroll in certain training classes.
Police officers starting out in a detective role usually spend a few years investigating lower level crimes and Geier explained it saying:
“They work these in the area command and investigate things like property crimes, shoplifting, burglaries. … It’s kind of like an apprenticeship because that’s where detectives really start their training.”
The way the process works now is that if a person is selected for a detective position, they start as a more general detective working in a particular area command, investigating such things as property crimes and domestic violence cases without serious injuries.
As the officer continues to gain experience and seek out training courses, the detective can then be selected for a specialty unit like crimes against children or homicide.
According to Chief Geier:
“There is a hierarchy with some of the most serious crimes being at the top, homicide being one of them. … So of course, we wouldn’t want someone who just came from patrol to become a homicide detective. We want that series of steps where that person gained experience.”
Chief Geier made a stunning admission that has been believed to be true for years by outside observers of the Albuquerque Police Department:
“In the past, I regret to say this, but sometimes if you’re friends with someone that’s served in units, you have an inside track.”
Outsider observers would call the Chief’s comments the admission of a “good ol boy” system for transfers and promotions which has gone on for years within APD and not just within the Homicide Unit but has included other units, especially including the SWAT Unit.
The “good ol boy” approach to transfers in law enforcement is the worst form of cronyism among people who have known each other for a period of time with transfers based on friendships and not qualifications.
Chief Geier said detectives need more training, especially when they are interviewing people with mental health issues.
Dealing with a mentally deficient person is a lesson learned in the case of Michelle Martens who falsely implicated herself and another suspect in the death of her daughter.
Chief Geier made another surprising admission to the Police Oversight Board when he said:
“We’re really kind of at fault for leading them [people with mental health issues] on and not knowing that or understanding that process, that’s the kind of new training that’s out there that we have to look at.”
All sworn police officers have already received 40 hours of crisis intervention dealing with the mentally ill as a result of the reforms mandated by the Federal consent decree and cases like mentally ill homeless camper John Boyd who was shot and killed in the Sandia Foothills by APD.
Commander Duran reported that there are now 10 Detectives assigned to the Homicide unit and that APD wants to increase the number even further.
Commander Duran could not answer the question as to how many Detectives he needs to deal with the existing case load.
Duran said he did not know what the national standard number of cases is per detective.
A “CAREER PATH” TO BECOME HOMICIDE DETECTIVE
Chief Geier and Commander Duran announced that a “working group” has been formed to make it a more formal process to become an APD Detective.
The working group includes detectives, supervisors, and a District Attorney’s office representative.
The working group is tasked with coming up with advanced training and more hands-on testing to become an APD Detective.
According to Geier, the ultimate goal is to implement a process for a more formal and structured, definitive career path for APD Detectives.
Chief Geier told the Police Oversight Board he wants to implement a “well-developed process” that looks at giving officers who have a genuine interest in more opportunities to gain knowledge early on in their careers.
A career path approach will require officers to take “prerequisites” and training courses before they can even apply to be a detective.
A major goal is to require all detectives to have more advanced training throughout their careers.
The new career path that Chief Geier envisions will include written and oral exam testing, a form of “hands on assessment” and include requirements already in place for officers who are receiving a promotion.
According to Geier:
“The idea is not to just take people out of the blue and place them in these assignments, we want to prepare them so they are well trained and not an expedited process, but one that they’ve earned.”
Chief Geier said they are considering putting a year probation on each assignment the officer will have to complete and said:
“So, if they don’t cut the mustard, so to speak, or they find out it isn’t right for them or they’re just not meeting the requirements, then we can pull them from that assignment during that probation period.”
What courses the officers will need to take to become a detective have yet to be finalized.
Geier also said he will consider giving officers raises if they make detective.
Chief Geier summed things up for the Police Oversight Board by saying:
“We want to build their skill set from the first time they become a detective to when they leave their career and retire. … So hopefully it’s a lifetime path so that they don’t lose that experience and we have a better chance at serving [the] public. … This is the plan for the future. … The goal is that we build a quality career path.”
APD’S MURDER CLEARANCE RATE
On April 18, 2018, APD released the city’s crime statistics for the first quarter of 2018 (January to March) comparing them to the first quarter of 2017, (January to March) and the statistics revealed that the property crime rates are down, but the homicide rate increased by an alarming 50%.
There were 6 more murders in the first quarter of 2018 compared with 2017, which is a 50% increase.
In March of this year, 5 homicides were reported in six days.
Albuquerque has had twenty (21) homicides reported in the first 4 months of this year.
There are 36 murder cases from last year that have yet to be cleared with upwards of 40 murders committed this year thus far.
APD’s “clearance rate” is currently in the mid 50%, if not lower.
According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%, in 2017 the clearance rate was 70% and the projected clearance rate is 46% for mid-year.
The 2009 “West Side Serial Killer” murder case where 12 woman, along with an unborn child, were killed and buried still remains unsolved.
Albuquerque is on track to exceeding the all-time number of 70 homicides in one year.
For the last 8 months, Chief Michael Geier has done a very respectable job of settling down a trouble plagued police department.
Geier publicly has made a firm commitment to the DOJ mandated reforms.
The only real public misstep thus far has been his defense of APD in the evidence gathering of the blood-stained underwear of a 9-year-old female child who was being prostituted by her parents.
The case was where a police officer refuse to take and tag into evidence the garment but threw it into the garbage.
Ultimately, Mayor Keller and Geier to their credit ordered an Internal affairs investigation and changes to standard operating procedures in the investigation of child abuse cases were announced.
What is simmering under the radar for Chief Geier is that Commander of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Training Academy John Sullivan retired with allegations that Geier forced him out.
Former Commander Sullivan of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Training Academy ended what he called “good-ol’-boy testing,” which he described as instructors telling officers what was going to be on their tests and allowing them to take tests as a group.
Now the real hard part begins for Chief Geier with reforming the hiring, training, transferring and promotion practices of the department.
The “working group” announced to come up with the hiring and training of detectives with a career path is an excellent first step, but only a first step, and will be meaningless if not carried out and is done only for show.
Sources are reporting that upwards of 50 lateral transfers from other agencies are going to work for APD as a result of the pay incentive program initiated by the Keller Administration.
The first priority should be to hire lateral hires who are experienced homicide detectives.
The APD Homicide Unit, now even with 10 Detectives, has the lowest number of assigned Detectives in years with the experience level severely lacking.
The “good ol boy” system contributed to the “culture of aggression” which was found by the Department of Justice three years ago.
It was the APD SWAT Unit that generated so much attention and was investigated by the Department of Justice for the handling of high level call outs that resulted in 18 police officer deadly use of force killings within one year alone.
The “good ol boy” approach to transfers in law enforcement is the worst form of cronyism among people who have known each other for a period of time and where friendships and shared attitudes are given greater weight than qualifications and talent.
Transfer’s based on friendships and not qualifications to handle some of the most egregious violent crime investigations, and for that matter SWAT situations, should never be tolerated.
The “good ol boy” system for transfers and promotions has gone on for way too many years and it must stop throughout APD and not just within the homicide unit.
You can anticipate that the the Albuquerque Police Officers Associate (APOA) will oppose and strenuously resist the effort by the Keller Administration to make the position of detective separate and distinct from field service uniformed officers, especially when the effort is made to make Detective a promotion with a raise.
The police union will demand to have a seat at the table in the determination of qualifications and pay grade and make it part of the union contract.
Chief Geier is commended for his efforts with the Homicide Unit and he has his work cut out for him with other specialized units and dealing with the police union.
Time is of the essence when Albuquerque is suffering a murder rate of epidemic proportions.
As the saying goes “Better late than never”.