The Associated Press and local news media report that the Keller Administration and the Albuquerque Police Department has hired an out of state law enforcement veteran to manage APDs Real-Time Crime center who was accused 19 years ago in a lawsuit of using excessive force while conducting a traffic stop as a New Jersey state trooper.
The lawsuit, which also included racial profiling claims stemming from other incidents involving troopers, was eventually settled, with state payouts ranging from $25,000 to $200,000.
In 1996, newly appointed APD Real Time Crime Center Leonard Nerbetski was accused of twisting the arm of an Egypt-born woman in her 20s and holding a gun to her head.
In 1999, Leonard Nerbetski was also named as one of two New Jersey State troopers accused of using excessive force and roughing up Laila Maher and Felix Morka, both minorities and both law students at the time, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
While the State of New Jersey admitted to no wrongdoing under the settlements, the traffic stop involving Nerbetski and the other trooper led to changes in how the New Jersey State Police handle complaints of misconduct.
For the past 4 years, APD and the city have been struggling to implement mandated reforms agreed to in a Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) after a U.S. Justice Department investigation in 2014 found a “culture of aggression” within the Albuquerque police ranks and excessive use of force and deadly force.
From 2010 to 2017, there were 42 police officer involved shooting and the city has paid $62 million in settlements in excessive use of force and deadly force cases and civil rights cases.
GROWING THE DEPARTMENT BY POACHING LATERALS
The Keller Administration is proposing to spend $88 million dollars, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers in order to return to community-based policing.
For the first fiscal year of the four-year plan, the 2018-2019 budget provides for increasing funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040.
Recently, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) issued a recruiting status report giving statistics summarizing APDs recruiting efforts to increase the number of sworn police.
On October 1, 2018, APD had 853 full time sworn police officers and just graduated a lateral class of 29 which brings the department to 882 sworn police officers.
APD’s has aggressively recruited more than 60 sworn police officers from other law enforcement agencies in in order to “grow” the size of the department by 100 officers in the 2018-2019 fiscal year that began July 1, 2018.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
Old law enforcement bad habits, attitudes and philosophy are difficult to overcomer, even with new training, but can easily be hidden before a hire is made unless a proper vetting process occurs.
Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement that Leonard Nerbetski was hired for his expertise in crime analysis and running a “high-level smart policing program.”
Mayor Tim Keller said his hiring was among several intended to help manage “a more effective and community-focused APD.”
APD is essentially saying the public needs to look the other way when it comes to the hire because it happened 19 years ago and it is a management hire.
Why does this sound so damn familiar? Because it has happened before with lateral hires!
APD and the city cannot afford to pay another $61 million in police misconduct cases for excessive use of force and deadly force cases and civil rights violations nor hire APD management who have no problem with such conduct or who find excuses for such conduct.
The Keller Administration prefers to ignore that the conduct led to changes in how state police handle complaints of misconduct so the conduct must have been pretty egregious and then did not result in much of an Internal Affairs investigation.
This is the type of hire and justification for the hire that creates a credibility gap with the public and the Keller Administration that proclaims it is doing a stringent vetting process.
The news story identifies the very problem associated with lateral hires for APD, including those hired for management positions, predicted by many.
A major problem with hiring “laterals” is that lateral hires contributed to the “culture of aggression” and that very argument was alleged in a civil lawsuit against APD that resulted in a $900,000 judgment against the city.
The Keller Administration recently graduated a lateral class of 30 and intends to hire another 30.
Notwithstanding the claims of a strict vetting process, the prospect of even a few officers, including management, being hired when they should not be hired looms large.
APD officials said they are closely vetting all lateral hires during the current hiring push claiming all lateral hires are vetted just as stringent as the new hires.
Background checks to work for APD are part of the vetting process before a person is hired.
It has not been reported if a background check was done on Nebreski for the management position and if so, did the Keller Administration hire him anyway.
APD Spokesman Gallegos did not disclose if Leonard Nerbetski notified the city of the previous lawsuits he was involved with for excessive use of force.
APD should avoid hiring police officers that have a history of personnel problems to the department they are leaving.
APD must avoid and make sure it does not hire any police officers from other agencies, including management, who are not fully committed to the Department of Justice agreed to mandated reforms.
The city cannot afford to pay another $61 million in police misconduct cases for excessive use of force and deadly force cases nor have APD management who have no problem with such conduct and who may look the other way when it does happen.
On October 20, 2018, it was reported that APD is standing by its decision to hire an out of state law enforcement veteran Leonard Nerbetski to head up the real time crime center who once was accused of racial profiling and excessive force in a nearly 20-year-old lawsuit where there was a settlement payout.
APD is also saying it will reach out to Leonard Nerbetski’s former employer to get more information about his background.
The Keller Administration also said the hire came highly recommended by the Federal Monitor.
There are two takeaways from this story:
FIRST: APD did not do the “stringent vetting” they claimed they were doing with all lateral hires.
SECOND: Why is the Federal Monitor recommending anyone for a job when for the last 3 years he has failed to weigh in on any other hires, including Gordon Eden and Assistant Chief Huntsman?
Huntsman was in charge of SWAT when a number of the 12 shootings occurred by SWAT that the DOJ investigated and as Assistant Chief with the rewriting use of force policies.
Huntsman also secretly recorded a conversation with the Federal Monitor that resulted in an admonishment from the Federal Court.
Now we have the Federal Monitor serving a function of human resources when his duties are strictly suppose to be monitoring the progress of the consent decree.
APD must avoid and make sure it does not hire any police officers from other agencies, including management, who are not fully committed to the Department of Justice agreed to mandated reforms nor management who may look the other way when it comes to police misconduct.
You can read more on lateral hires and rehires at the below links: