The City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) union are at odds over new rules for promoting police officers.
Rules for promoting sworn officers were part of the Department of Justice federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and the mandated and agreed to reforms.
The police the union now sees the opportunity to change them to their liking.
The personnel rules keep some police officers with checkered pasts from promotions.
The City, APD and the police union in 2016 agreed to the promotional policy.
The parties are now in court over two points in the promotional policy.
In the policy, the City and APD want candidates for promotion to undergo testing every 2 years to continue the application process.
The police union wants a candidate’s test scores to stand beyond 2 years.
The promotion rules now provide that the City and APD can deny a promotion to any officer who’s been suspended more than a day.
The police union claims the rule gives the City and APD way too much discretion to deny promotions.
The union believes that the City’s and APD’s power to deny a promotion because of a suspension should only apply to police officers who’ve been suspended for at least 6 weeks.
Former APD Chief Gordon Eden staunchly supported the existing rule saying “It gives me the ability to remove them for cause and I think that’s what’s really important”.
Current APD Chief Michael Geier has not publicly given his position on the issue.
The City and the Police Union both agree that certain officers should be barred from promotions such as police officers involved in pending lawsuits.
The existing policy also provides that APD and the City can deny an officer a promotion under three specific circumstances:
1. If a court rules they violated constitutional rights of another person
2. If they’re under internal affairs investigation, or
3. If they are under felony indictment.
What is not clear in the existing policy is what happens to promotion applicants who were sued for use of force or deadly force where the city settles before a judge could rule if their actions were justified or not.
Two cases where the city settled for millions of dollars for deadly use of force before there was ever an adjudication that the actions the police officers were justified include:
1. The city paid $5 million dollars to settle with the family of 19-year-old Mary Hawkes who was killed by APD officer Jeremy Dear. Dear was fired and attempted to return to work for APD and was denied returning to work. Dear filed a libel and slander lawsuit against former Chief Gordon Eden with the case pending.
2. The city paid $5 million to settle with the family of homeless camper and mentally ill James Boyd who was shot and killed by APD SWAT Officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, both who were charged and tried with murder and with the trial ending in a deadlocked jury and no conviction and no acquittal. Sandy has retired from APD and Perez has returned to work for APD.
BENEFITS OF A POLICE UNION ENDORSMENT
On September 28, 2017, it was widely reported that the Albuquerque Police Officers Association endorsed Tim Keller for Mayor.
The rising crime rates, Albuquerque Police Department personnel levels as well as the Department of Justice mandated reforms were major issues in the Mayor’s race.
It was not at all surprising that the APOA endorsed a candidate for Mayor given that it was at repeated impasse with the previous administration during contract negotiations.
The previous administration unilaterally decided not to pay 5% pay raises negotiated in good faith by the police union and eliminated longevity pay for rank and file.
To be perfectly blunt, no political endorsement is ever given by an organization unless a candidate makes concessions or falls in line with an organization’s philosophy, wants, needs or even demands.
In making the endorsement of Keller, the police union no doubt wanted to have some influence over the next Mayor and Keller as a candidate wanted the votes of rank and file police officers.
The advantage of a police union endorsement to a candidate is to be able to say law enforcement has your back and you have theirs.
On December 7, 2017, union leadership, one week after being sworn in, accused Mayor Tim Keller of being “dishonorable for apologizing” to the people of Albuquerque for the past actions APD police officers who had used excessive force or deadly force and the “culture of excessive use of force” found by the Department of Justice, with the union falsely claiming it was a universal apology for all police actions.
The message to Keller was loud and clear: support the rank and file without question or the police union will oppose your efforts with the reform process.
On March 5, 2018 the Albuquerque City Council voted to raise the city’s gross receipts tax rate by three-eighths of a percent on an 8-1 vote without putting it to a public vote.
The tax increase went into effect July 1, 2018 and is expected to bring in a $55 million annually.
At the time the tax was enacted, APOA union president Shaun Willoughby demanded the city councilors to amend the legislation to “guarantee” that 60 percent of all the revenue generated from the new tax be dedicated to the police department to recruit more officers and increase pay, despite the fact the city was faced with a $40 million-dollar deficit requiring the tax.
On May 21, 2018 the Albuquerque City Council unanimously approved the 2018- 2019 Keller Administration operating budget of $577 million in general fund appropriations.
The approved budget included an APD expansion plan to spend $88 million dollars, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures to hire 350 officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers by implementing a hiring and recruitment program to offer incentives, pay raises and bonuses to join or return to APD in order to return to community-based policing.
The approved budget also included $2.3 million for compliance with the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) reached between the city and the Department of Justice in November, 2014 regarding police use of excessive force and deadly use of force.
The biggest benefit of the Union endorsement of Tim Keller was when on May 21, 2018 rank-and-file Albuquerque police officers overwhelmingly approved by a 501 to 40 vote a new two-year contract negotiated by the Keller Administration that gave sworn police officers between $1.50 to $3.50 per hour pay raises, or $12.1 million more in annual pay, with longevity pay increases of between $2,600 to $15,000 a year.
After 8 years of no substantive raises to APD rank and file, the raises were justified.
The police union when announcing approval of the contract by rank and file took a back handed swipe at the Keller administration when it said the downside to the contract is that it is a two-year deal.
The police union claimed it wanted a one-year contract because many officers “don’t trust the city to keep its word on a multi-year deal.”
Make no mistake, the APOA Union leadership was within it rights and did its job in getting any and all concession it could from the city when it comes to raises, incentive pay and increasing personnel numbers and securing more resources.
Almost four (4) years ago, a Department of Justice investigation found a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression” within the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
In the last eight (8) years, there has been 41 police officer involved shootings, and the city has paid out $61 million dollars in settlements for police misconduct cases.
The single biggest crisis Mayor Tim Keller was confronted with on the day he was sworn into office was reforming the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and keeping his commitment to implement the mandated reforms for constitutional policing.
Mayor Keller appointed Chief Michael Geier and both have repeatedly committed in court and in public to the DOJ mandated reforms.
Under normal circumstances, union endorsements are common place in municipal elections.
However, when it comes to the Albuquerque Police Department, it is a department still in crisis and for the first time in its history is under a Department of Justice consent decree.
The union endorsement of Keller and the DOJ consent decree complicates things with the Keller Administration because the police union opposes many of the reforms and opposes any form of civilian oversight.
Based on the union’s actions over the last 8 months with the Keller Administration, it is clear the relationship the police union has with the city is very one sided and only benefits the union and its membership and not necessarily the citizens of Albuquerque.
The police union has never fully embraced the consent decree, the mandated reforms and it resists citizen oversight.
The police union is often at odds with the city’s Civilian Oversight Board.
The APOA Union understands full well the consent decree in that the police union made sure they intervened and became a party to the federal lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against the city and APD.
Any Mayoral administration has the equal responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the general public and the responsible spending of taxpayer dollars for public safety.
The past administration and the present Keller administration both have made a major concession consenting to the APOA Union to be a party to the federal lawsuit and the Court Approved Settlement Agreement.
The union leadership was at the negotiating table for a full year involved in the drafting of the “use of force” and “deadly use of force” policy and contributed significantly to the one-year delay in writing the policy repeatedly objecting to language of the policy asserting the policy was unreasonable.
The union leadership has attended and has sat at counsel table during court hearings and Federal Monitor presentations.
During all the Court proceeding where the federal monitor has made his presentation to the federal court, the APOA union has made its opposition and objections known to the federal court.
All six of the Federal Monitor’s status reports were scathing against the city accusing the APD chain of command of delaying and obstructing the DOJ reform process, yet the police union had no comment and took no position.
When the previous administration accused the federal monitor of biasness and attempted to have the monitor remove, the police union remained totally silent implying its support to have the federal monitor removed.
The police union and its leadership have said in open court that the mandated reforms under the consent decree are interfering with rank and file officer’s ability to perform their job duties.
The changes the police union to the promotion rules and testing requirement amounts to nothing more than the union dictating to the City and APD command staff personnel policy as to who should be hired, fired, disciplined, suspended and promoted by management.
There is a definite chain of command and a clear line of authority that needs separate management from rank and file sworn police officers that must be preserved and honored.
Included in the union’s bargaining unit are all APD police Sergeants and Lieutenants who are clearly part of police management.
Lieutenants, Commanders, Deputy Chief and the Chief are at will positions that serve at the pleasure of the Administration, either the Chief or Mayor.
Including APD police Sergeants and Lieutenants who are part of management in the union bargaining unit creates a clear conflict of interest when they are the ones on the frontline to enforce personnel rules and regulations, standard operating procedures, approve and review work performed and assist in implementing DOJ consent decree mandates and standard operating procedures policies that the APOA Union opposes.
Law enforcement command staff and management must be able to make decisions to protect public safety and maintain credibility with the public and be able to immediately remove and even replace police officers who tarnish the badge with unethical, questionable, and at times illegal conduct in violation of standard operating procedures and the law.
The Keller Administration needs to decide between if it is more important to manage the police department and APD personnel free from union obstruction tactics and control over management decisions in order to implement the Department of Justice mandated reforms.
In the long run, what the police union now wants in court with respect to promotions will breed contempt by management and hamstring command staff abilities to make effective personnel decisions and hold employees accountable for misconduct.
The Keller Administration must decide if it was worth the expense of giving up management authority of the department to conform with police union demands and expectations.
The Keller Administration should consider seeking to having the APOA Union removed as a party to the federal lawsuit, consent decree and CASA negotiations.
The City should oppose the unions attempt to reduce managements authority over promotion practices by opposing the unions attempt change rules they agreed to two years ago.
During the next round of union contract negotiations, the city should demand that the management positions of APD Sergeants and Lieutenants be removed from the APOA Union bargaining unit.
The clear line of separation between command staff management and rank and file needs to be preserved in order to achieve effective implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms.
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