The Keller Administration and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) intends to spend $88 million dollars, over the next 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. The 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provides for increasing funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. The massive investment is being done in order to full fill Mayor Tim Keller’s 2017 campaign promise to increase the size of APD and return to community-based policing as a means of reducing the city’s high crime rates.
The APD recruiting plan to grow the size of the department includes the city increasing police officer hourly pay and increasing longevity pay. APD is projecting that it will have 980 officers by next summer by growing the ranks with both new cadets, lateral hires from other departments, and returning to work APD retirees. APD has recruited 59 sworn police officers as “lateral hires” from other law enforcement agencies in the State of New Mexico. In October, APD graduated a lateral academy with 29 officers. 10 previously retired APD officers have been recruited to return to work. 2 retirees from other law enforcement departments have recruited to return to work. On December 20, 2018, the APD Academy graduated 42 police officers with 32 of those officers who will work for APD with the other 10 going to work for other law enforcement agencies. APD officials believe they are on track to hire 100 officers by June 30, 2019, the end of the fiscal year.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE CONSENT DECREE
Albuquerque is one of 18 law enforcement agencies throughout the country operating under a consent decree brought on by a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that found systemic problems and a “culture of aggression”. What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from all the other federal investigations and consent decrees is the fact that the others involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and use of excessive force. The DOJ’s finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD dealt with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill.
In APD’s case, the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” within APD after reviewing as many as 18 “deadly use of force cases” and other cases of “excessive use of force” mostly with the mentally ill and having nothing to do with racial profiling. The City of Albuquerque has paid out $61 million in settlements over the last 9 years involving 41 police officer involved shootings.
The implementation of reforms under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) began in 2014 after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression” within the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). It was 2012 when the Department of Justice (DOJ) came to Albuquerque to investigate the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) for excessive use of force and deadly forced.
Many in the community and some within APD and at the APD Police Academy proclaimed that there was a “relaxing of hiring standards” from 2005 to 2009 that resulted in the “culture of aggression” and use of excessive force and deadly force. There was a civil lawsuit filed for excessive use of force that identified one cadet class that had a disportionate number of police officers involved with “excessive use of force” or “deadly force cases” with the argument made that there was a reduction in hiring standards and people were hired that should not have been hired.
Some within APD asserted and that there was duress or unacceptable pressure to lower standards and hire unqualified people by then Mayor Martin Chavez, which is false.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Proclaiming that there was a relaxing of hiring standards that created APD’s “culture of aggression” is far too easy and ignores what really happened and what I witnessed. The truth is no Mayor can order the relaxing of hiring standards for law enforcement. By law a Mayor is strictly prohibited from getting involved with the personnel rules and regulations and hiring when it comes to classified protected positions as are rank and file law enforcement personnel.
If there was a relaxing of hiring practices, it was the APD upper command staff and the Police Academy personnel that was responsible. Former Mayor Martin Chavez did not order any cop be hired but he did demand that APD get the number of sworn police officers up which was the Police Academy’s job. Orders to get the numbers up of rank and file is something all Mayors do, including Jim Baca, Richard Berry and now Tim Keller not to mention the City Council.
There was a full 8 years of very bad management of APD by former Mayor Berry, who kept APD Chief Ray Schultz during his entire first term as Mayor. In 2010, APD was fully staffed at 1,100 sworn police and arguably it was the best trained and best equipped police department in the City’s history and crime rates were down.
From 2010 to 2017, the number of sworn police dropped from 1,100 to 878. When Schultz retired at the end of Berry’s first term in 2013, Berry appointed political operative APD Chief Gorden Eden who had absolutely no prior experience managing a municipal police department.
APD Chief Goron Eden then created the position of “Assistant Chief” and hired his political loyalist and former SWAT Commander Robert Huntsman who had retired a few years before from APD. Assistant Chief Huntsman was the commander in charge of the SWAT Unit that was involved with a number of the “deadly use of force” cases investigated by the DOJ.
Notwithstanding the Berry administration negotiating the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA), they never were fully committed to the Department of Justice reforms. For a full three years, the Berry Administration and APD under the leadership of Chief Eden and Assistant Chief Huntsman did whatever they could to “delay”, “deflect”, “subvert”, and use “covert orders”, all words used by the federal monitor, to undermine all the reforms under the consent decree.
It was Assistant Chief Huntsman who secretly recorded contentious meetings between police officials and the federal monitor and the City Attorney proceeded to file a Motion to have Dr. Ginger removed as the Federal Monitor alleging he was biased. Assistant Chief Huntsman was involved with reviewing and rewriting many “use of force” and “deadly for policies” he was responsible enforcing when he was SWAT commander calling into serious question his real commitment to the DOJ reforms.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE CULTURE OF AGGRESSION
The beginning of “the culture of aggression” can be traced back to 2005 when 3 law enforcement personnel and 3 civilians were murdered. In August, 2005, APD Officers Richard Smith and Michael King and civilians David Fisher (age 17), Garrett Iverson, (age 26) and Ben Lopez were all killed the same day by mentally ill John Hyde.
Police Officers Smith and King were dispatched to take John Hyde into custody, but they did not know his was mentally ill and violent nor of the fact that he had killed 3 civilians earlier that day. When the 5 murders occurred, then APD Chief Police Ray Schutz proclaimed very loud and clear that the killing of cops would “never happen on his watch” again. A few months later Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mcgrane was killed during a traffic stop by a violent felon with priors.
The 6 killings had a profound and lasting impact on APD and the New Mexico law enforcement community in general. The pronouncement by then Chief Schultz that the killing of cops would never happen on his watch ever again signaled in reality APD’s abandonment of community-based policing. After the killings, the number one priority of APD and the APD Police Academy became “police officer safety”.
More training in officer safety and defense tactics to respond to escalating and violent confrontations was provided by the police academy and training was also provided by the US Department of Homeland Security. More reliance was given by APD to call out the SWAT unit. Soon after the killing of BCSO Deputy Sheriff James McGrane, his family established the “McGrane Institute” that provides “Officer Street Survival Training” every year to law enforcement with the use of private donations.
It was in 2010 that violent crimes and property crimes began to spike dramatically over 8 years in Albuquerque which also contributed to further need for more training in “officer street survival” training. In 8 years, Albuquerque’s violent crime and property crime rates became more than triple the national crime rates.
In 2016 and again in 2017, New Mexico had the country’s highest per capita rate of property crime and the second-highest per capita rate of violent crime. In 2017, the number of violent crimes in the specific categories of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, in Albuquerque increased even though the City’s population remained essentially the same.
In 2017, Albuquerque had a record high of 75 homicides reported. On December 20, 2018, Albuquerque had 65 homicides reported for 2018. From 2005 to 2011, all under the leadership of former APD Chief Ray Schultz, was when the militarization of APD happened with the hiring and training more cops including many laterals and the securing of military surplus equipment to arm the police department.
A major byproduct of the change in training and an increase in violent crime mandating self-defense was a far more aggressive police department. De-escalation training tactics and crisis intervention with the mentally ill took a major backseat to officer safety tactics after the 2005 murders of the 3 law enforcement personnel.
For a full 10 years, APD gave priority and further preference as required by federal law to the hiring of ex-military. A heavy reliance on APD SWAT became all too common from 2010 to 2013 rather than the use of de-escalation tactics and crisis intervention.
It was from 2010 to 2014, under Mayor Berry’s and Chiefs Ray Shultz and Gordon Eden’s watch, that there were 18 APD police officer-involved shootings, many of them fatal involving the APD SWAT Unit, that brought the DOJ in to investigate APD for use of excessive force and deadly force. A dramatic game changer occurred in March, 2014 when two APD SWAT officers shot and killed mentally ill homeless camper James Boyd armed with knives in the Sandia Foothills.
The two SWAT Officers who killed Boyd were later charged with murder, but were not convicted and not acquitted with the trial ending with a deadlock jury and the District Attorney dismissing the charges. The Boyd family was paid $5 million by the City to settle the civil lawsuit for wrongful death and civil rights violations
A WARNING OF CAUTION
There are a few major warnings that can be derived from tracing the root causes of APD’s “culture of aggression” that need to be taken seriously by Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier.
In the last six months APD has recruited and has hired a total of 71 experienced police officers consisting of 59 lateral hires and 12 return to work retired hires which can be directly attributed to the dramatic increase in hourly pay and lucrative “incentive pay” bonuses and APD’s aggressive recruiting program. At this point, APD needs to concentrate on recruiting a new generation of young, committed police officers to begin their careers who are fully trained in constitutional policing practices.
Keller and Geier are hiring and returning to work APD retirees which does have a significant advantage in hiring experienced police officers, but there are also disadvantages in hiring police officers far too set in their ways. The biggest danger with APD returning retirees to work is hiring back police officers and returning to work people who may have created, knew or who contributed to or who did not stop the culture of aggression found by the DOJ.
The biggest danger in hiring laterals is the hiring of a generation of police officers who may not be fully committed to constitutional policing practices and hiring “problem” officers that have left their former agencies for personal reasons unknown to APD and only motivated by lucrative pay rather than a bigger commitment to law enforcement and public service. APD needs to curb its efforts of hiring retirees and lateral hires and concentrate now on hiring younger new generation of police officer to begin their law enforcement career and to rebuild APD from the ground up.
Increases in police officer shooting of suspects tend to ebb and flow over a period of years. In 4 to 6 years after growing APD from 857 to 1,200 sworn police, it is hoped the city will have a police force fully trained and committed to constitutional policing with officer involved shootings very few and far between and with no settlement payouts in the millions of dollars.
Otherwise, the city and APD may just wind up having yet another cycle of a “culture of aggression”.