From 2010 to 2019, there were 32 police officer involved shootings and the city paid out $61 million dollars in settlements to family’s who sued APD for wrongful death. A significant number of those lawsuits involved the mentally ill.
In 2012, United States Department of Justice DOJ began a yearlong investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and found a “culture of aggression” within the department and patterns of excessive use of force and deadly force. The April 10, 2014 (DOJ) investigation that found a “culture of aggression” within APD dedicated a significant amount of the force review against persons with mental illness and in crisis and APD’s specific responses to suspects that were having mental illness episodes.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that police officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respected their rights.
In November, 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Albuquerque entered into a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating reforms. What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from the other federal investigations in the country and consent decrees of police departments is that the other consent decrees involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and use of excessive force or deadly force against minorities.
A recent report revealed the extent of New Mexico’s mental health crisis. A second report discussed APD’s handling of behavioral health calls and a third report was on APD’s use of force.
This article is an in-depth discussion on the reports and how they inter relate to law enforcement, the DOJ consent decree and what the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are doing when it comes to addressing our mental health crisis.
NEW MEXICO’S MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
In 2018, more people killed themselves in New Mexico than during any other year in at least two decades. According to New Mexico Department of Health reports, 535 people committed suicide which translates to a rate of 24.8 per 100,000 residents which is a 6.7% increase over the 2017 rate. According to Department of Health Official Carol Moss, the 24.8% suicide rate is the highest rate on record since the state began consistently keeping track in 1999. The increase is a trend that exists throughout the country and the world.
In 2017, New Mexico was ranked as having the 4th highest rate of suicides in the nation with 23.51 suicides per 100,000 people. According to an analysis released by the Violence Policy Center, New Mexico ranked behind Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. A 2017 report from the Office of the Medical Investigator found 2.6% of deaths in New Mexico were suicides, compared to 1.6% across the United States.
According to a Violence Policy Center study, a little more than 50% of New Mexico’s suicides involved guns, compared to upwards of 60% in the other top states. The study found those states also have much higher rates of gun ownership, between 54% and 69% compared to New Mexico’s 37%. According to a 2017 NM Office of Medical Investigation report, 25% of those who committed suicide hanged themselves, and about 13% died from substance abuse or drug overdose.
In 2017, 46 New Mexico youths between 10 and 19 committed suicide. New Mexico has the 5th highest youth suicide rate in the country, approximately 16 per 100,000 residents, which is double the national average. According to data from the New Mexico Department of Health, the group of young people ages 10 to 14 experienced the largest increase in the rate of suicide over the past decade, rising from 4 in 2009 to 13 in 2018.
According to NM Department of Health Official Carol Moss, it is difficult to identify exactly what causes some states to have higher rates of suicide than others. Some studies suggest less restrictive gun laws and high numbers of gun ownership and the rural nature of a state may have an effect.
According to Molly McCoy Brack, the clinical director at the Agora Crisis Center, in rural states like New Mexico, it can be hard for people living in small towns to get access to mental health care, a factor that could contribute to higher suicide rates. Brack said:
“For one thing that makes it more difficult to access care, when you need it. Even when somebody realizes they need help and they are willing to accept help, it’s not always easy to get it. If you live in Vaughn, New Mexico, the closest counseling agency might be two hours away.”
In 2000, the Agora Crisis Center took about 1,200 calls and now they take about 30,000 calls a year. McCoy Brack added:
“Of all the calls we take, about 20% of them involve suicide as a topic of discussion at some level. About 5% of our calls involve someone who is in imminent danger from suicide.”
APD’S MENTAL HEALTH CALLS
Under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) consent decree and settlement, a yearly “Use of Force” Report is mandatory. APD did not published a Use of Force Annual Report since 2015 with the primary reason being that the previous Republican administration failed to implement adequate data gathering processes and procedures for accurate reporting. After more than two years, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) finally released a “Use of Force Report” combining a single report for the years 2016 and 2018.
You can read the entire Use of Force Report here:
When you read and review the entire 2017- 2018 consolidated “Use of Force Report”, a major omission in the report is that there are no statistics regarding APD’s crisis intervention incidents and interactions with the mentally ill, especially by the SWAT unit. You can read a general summary of APD’s consolidated Use of Force Report in the postscript to this article below.
On Friday September 6, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released its 37-page Crisis Intervention Unit Data Book consisting of statistical charts and graphs covering the 2018 calendar year. You can read the entire data book at the below city link:
The Crisis Intervention Unit Data Book APD is a detailed report that provides raw statistical data on how APD is dealing with people in mental health crisis. The report outlines the types of behavioral health-related calls coming into the 911 dispatch center, what officers are encountering on the streets and how those calls are being handled by sworn police dispatched. Much of the data released by APD was compiled from worksheets filled out by field officers after behavioral health-related encounters. The police reports detail the nature of each call, describe the person, whether they were armed and how the incident was resolved.
According to the Crisis Intervention Unit Data Book:
1. In 2018, 65% of the 4,069 of APD’s calls involving someone experiencing behavioral health issues were related to suicide.
2. Behavioral health-related calls across the city in 2018 decreased slightly for the first time in at least eight years, from an average of 17.9 calls per day in 2017 to 17.3 calls per day in 2018. Such calls had surged by 72% going from 3,797 to 6,535 between the years of 2010 and 2017. There were 6,302 behavioral health calls in 2018.
3. A statistical map published in the data book shows that the calls received in 2018 were spread evenly across the city. There were large clusters along Central, particularly East Central, and parts of Gibson.
4. APD Officers arrested about 3%, or 169 people, they encountered during a crisis intervention situation. In 72% of those encounters, police officers transported the individual for emergency services. Another 20% were resolved with little or no action. In 57 of the encounters, just under 1%, the individual committed suicide.
5. Slightly more than 10% of the individuals with behavioral health issues that officers encountered last year were armed. Of those, 151 had a firearm; 410 had a knife or other cutting instrument; 32 had a blunt object and the other 35 had a different or unknown weapon.
6. Officers suffered 20 injuries in 2018 while dealing with crisis intervention situations. Those injuries ranged from abrasions in 12 cases to bite marks in 2. One incident was classified as a bio-hazard contamination.
7. Use of force was avoided in 98% of crisis intervention encounters. Officers used force in 1%, or 65, of those incidents. Although most use-of-force involved empty hand techniques or takedowns, police used a Taser on 17 people and shot at four, striking only one. It is unclear if that person died in the shooting. Of the 10 police shootings that occurred in 2018, nine of them were fatal but it is unclear in the report which one the data is referring.
REPEAT ENCOUNTERS TRACKED BY APD
The released Crisis Intervention Unit Data Book report outlines the number of individuals with repeated crisis intervention encounters with officers tracking 4,440 behavioral health encounters with police. Of the 4,440 behavioral health encounters tracked by APD, 806, close to one in five, involved someone they encountered more than once. 741 of those individuals had 2 to 5 encounters with the officers; 48 had six to 10 encounters; 13 had 11 to 19; three had 20 to 25 encounters; and one person had 52. The vast majority, however, nearly 82%, had only one encounter with officers.
The data report provides behavioral health-related calls over the years as follows:
APD’S CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM (CIT)
The 2014 DOJ investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respects their rights. During the last 10 years, there have been 32 police officer involved shootings and the city has paid out $61 million dollars in settlements to family’s who have sued APD for wrongful death. A significant number of those lawsuits involved the mentally ill.
The most memorable shooting was the killing of homeless camper and mentally ill James Boyd in the Sandia foothills in April, 2014 where both SWAT and the K-9 units were dispatched. The Boyd case was settled for $5 million paid to his family for his wrongful death. Two SWAT officers were charged and tried for murder ending in a deadlock jury and no acquittal and the charges later dropped against both police officers.
The number of incidents involving the killing of people having psychotic episodes by law enforcement compelled the city and county to invest more in crisis intervention funding. APD’s Crisis Intervention Unit (CIT) team consists of 13 detectives, the civilians in the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), a psychiatrist and two mental health clinicians.
The Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) respond to a variety of calls ranging from family disputes, suspicious people to high-stakes situations such as someone threatening to commit suicide. APD’s crisis intervention officers use to respond to every behavioral health call. Now, virtually all APD officers in the field have been given at least 40 hours crisis intervention training on the basic method of “Question, Persuade, Response” (QPR) to deal with people who are threatening to commit suicide.
In the first eight months of 2019, CIT has responded to 2,921 calls related to suicide, including threats and attempts, about 50% of the unit’s behavioral health calls. According to APD Lt. Matt Dietzel who heads the CIT Unit:
“The scary [calls] and the ones you know are not going to end well when you get there is where they call and say the address and they hang up. Generally, that is somebody who is … [dead] … when you get there. It’s not going to be good. … In terms of mental health, [suicide is] the number one call APD responds to hands down, no question. We’ve done so much work to train the field and uniformed officers in general on how to deal with [suicide] calls we only do follow up. The field has gotten so good with what they do.”
APD Chief Mike Geier said in a statement:
“We continue to invest in quality training for field officers, while building and expanding our successful Mobile Crisis Teams that go to high-priority mental health emergency calls. We are also being proactive with a team of home visit detectives and clinicians who work with people and attempt to prevent crisis situations.”
DECIMATION OF NEW MEXICO’S MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
In June 2013, under the direction of the former Republican Governor, the Human Services Department (HSD) cut off Medicaid funding to 15 behavioral health nonprofits operating in New Mexico. In 2014, more than 160,000 New Mexicans received behavioral health services, with most of those services funded by Medicaid, according to the Human Services Department.
After the audits were completed, the former Republican Administration said that the outside audit showed more than $36 million in over billing, as well as mismanagement and possible fraud. Under the orders of the Republican Governor, Human Services Department agency brought in 5 Arizona providers to take over from New Mexico providers.
In early 2016, following exhaustive investigations, the Attorney General cleared all 15 of the healthcare providers of any wrongdoing and exonerated all of them of fraud. Even though the NM Attorney General found no fraud and cleared the nonprofits of fraud, the damage had been done to the nonprofits. With the Medicaid funding freeze, many of the 15 nonprofits could not continue and just went out of business leaving many patients without a behavioral health service provider. Lawsuits against the state were initiated by the mental health care providers.
Three of the five Arizona providers brought in by the previous Republican Administration in 2013 to replace the New Mexico nonprofits pulled out of the state. New Mexico’s mental health system is still struggling to recover.
It has never been fully reported on how the 5 Arizona Heath Care providers were selected to replace the New Mexico nonprofits. It has also never been revealed to what extent the former Republican Governor was involved with the selection nor what orders her office gave in the selection of the out of state providers.
BUILDING THE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SERVICE SYSTEM
Studies suggest that nearly 50 percent of Bernalillo County residents needing mental health or addiction treatment services are not getting the help they need because of gaps in New Mexico’s behavioral health care. Untreated behavioral health conditions have led to increased and sometimes tragic interactions with law enforcement, over incarceration, overuse of hospital emergency and inpatient services, and unnecessary suffering on the part of patients and their families.
In 2014, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County voters overwhelmingly voted to impose a one-eighth percent gross receipts tax to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in Bernalillo County. The one-eighth percent gross receipts tax voted by taxpayers for mental health is being used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area, and to provide a safety net system that develops mental health care not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
The Bernalillo County Commission established the Behavioral Health Initiative representing a significant step forward in local efforts toward addressing and preventing the mental health, substance abuse, addiction, and homelessness crisis in Albuquerque/Bernalillo County and the middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico.
On September 30, 2016 the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Commission and the Bernalillo County Commission approved support and $5 million in funding for behavioral health proposals. Those proposals included:
A. Creation of community engagement team that helps people and their families to voluntarily cope with the effects of mental illness and substance abuse disorders in the comfort and familiarity of their home.
B. Supportive housing for individuals with behavioral health needs coming out of the jail.
C. Implementing reduction of adverse childhood experiences project to develop a system that maintains a strong collaboration of professionals who work with children across the full continuum of services for at-risk children and families including primary prevention, identification, early intervention, support and treatment, harm reduction, outreach, and services in children’s homes and within communities.
D. Hiring a behavioral health advisor who will provide guidance on the development and implementation of the behavioral health initiative.
E. Transitional living for the youth program to serve at-risk youth who are precariously housed or homeless with a mental health or addiction diagnosis.
On December 14, 2016, the Bernalillo County Commission approved two additional behavioral health initiatives that provide for mobile crisis teams and a supportive housing program.
The mobile crisis teams and scattered site supportive housing program were both approved and the county solicited requests for proposals to implement the initiatives. The housing program has increased supportive housing throughout Bernalillo County for persons with behavioral health conditions who are homeless.
The mobile crisis teams respond to individuals experiencing a nonviolent behavioral health crisis that necessitates a 911-response. Three teams were formed initially, one by Bernalillo County and two by the City of Albuquerque. Each team consists of a crisis intervention unit deputy paired with a master’s degree level behavioral health clinician.
The Bernalillo County Behavioral Health tax will fund the mobile crisis teams in the amount of up to $1 million per year. The mobile crisis teams provide a range of services, including clinician response to a scene within 20 minutes of an initial call and evaluations with referrals to appropriate behavioral health services and support systems.
The site supportive housing program consists of providing housing and case management services for persons with behavioral health conditions who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless. A minimum of 55 supportive housing units will be available throughout the county.
On January 10, 2017, the Bernalillo County Commission approved spending $1.3 to develop and fully fund a Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Transition Planning and Re-entry Resource Center using funds from the Bernalillo County behavioral health tax fund. The Re-entry Resource Center is located at 401 Roma NW, the former Public Safety Center, and serves individuals leaving the MDC and returning to the community.
The Re-entry Resource Center is designed to reach individuals who may have behavioral health challenges and a high need for resources, such as temporary shelter, food, and re-connecting with family members or community providers who can help former inmates gain footing after leaving jail.
There are two primary components to the project:
The first component begins before the individual is released from jail. It is transition planning for clients still at MDC who are at high risk for returning to jail. Planners inside the jail would administer risk/needs assessments, create transition plans and coordinate with case managers at the Re-entry Resource Center to facilitate a smooth transition for the individual being released back to the community.
The second component is that individuals released from jail would be discharged to the Re-entry Resource Center where they can receive immediate assistance linking them to community-based services, achieve long term stability and have a safe place to transition back into society.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Molly McCoy Brack, the clinical director at the Agora Crisis Center, highlighted the mental health crisis in rural states like New Mexico, when she said it’s hard for people living in small towns to get access to mental health care, a factor that contributes to higher suicide rates. Brack said:
“Even when somebody realizes they need help and they are willing to accept help, it’s not always easy to get it. If you live in Vaughn, New Mexico, the closest counseling agency might be two hours away.” Brack’s disturbing observation has not always been the case. In 2013, there were 15 nonprofit mental illness and drug addiction providers that provided services throughout New Mexico.
The cruelest things that former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” did was when she ordered an “audit” of mental health services by nonprofits in New Mexico based on questionable information. The audit eventually devastated New Mexico’s behavioral health system.
The former New Mexico Republican Governor never understood the need for mental health services. The mental health care providers were easy targets for her conservative antigovernment philosophy to freeze Medicaid funding to bring 15 nonprofits to their knees and forcing them out of business. To the former prosecutor, the answer was always increasing penalties and incarceration.
What is known is that legacy of Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named” is a legacy of shame when it comes to the destruction of New Mexico’s nonprofit mental health care system. Her political wrath and cost cutting measures affected thousands of New Mexico residents in need of mental and behavioral health care services and she simply did not give a damn.
The 15 behavioral health programs-initiated lawsuits against the state. The Governor Lujan Grisham administration continues to move forward to ending long-running lawsuits that have cost the state millions of dollars. 5 have reached settlements with the state. There are still other lawsuits pending.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham when she was the New Mexico Secretary of Health was a champion for mental health services. After 8 very long years, New Mexico has a Governor that truly understands the need for effective and critical mental and behavioral health care services. After 8 very long years, New Mexico has a Governor that truly understands the need for effective and critical mental and behavioral health care services. The process to rebuild the state’s behavioral health care services will be a slow process that no doubt will take years.
With respect to Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department tremendous progress has been made in dealing with our mental health crisis. According to the Crisis Intervention Unit Data Book, use of force was avoided in 98% of crisis intervention encounters. Officers used force in 1%, or 65, of those incidents. Although most use-of-force involved empty hand techniques or takedowns, police used a Taser on 17 people and shot at 4, striking only one. These statistics are a dramatic improvement to what the city was experiencing in 2014 that resulted in the Department of Justice investigation.
With the federal consent decree, the Mental Health Advisory Committee has been implemented and APD sworn have received crisis management intervention training. The CIT unit has made significant progress in dealing with the mentally ill so much so that APD’s programs have been identified and commended as best practices.
With voters overwhelmingly voting to impose a one-eighth percent gross receipt tax to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in Bernalillo County, the gross receipts tax is slowly but most assuredly being used to mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. A safety net system is being developed to offer mental health care not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
Not withstand all the progress that has been made in Bernalillo County, far more needs to be done to address New Mexico’s mental health care crisis.
POSTSCRIPT ON USE OF FORCE REPORTS
Under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) consent decree, a yearly “Use of Force” Report is mandatory. APD did not published a Use of Force Annual Report since 2015 with the primary reason being that the previous administration failed to implement adequate data gathering processes and procedures for accurate reporting. After more than two years, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) finally released a “Use of Force Report” combining a single report for the years 2016 and 2018.
You can read the entire Use of Force Report here:
According to the report, the current police administration encountered major problems analyzing data collected by the previous administration, calling the previous methods “poor at best” in the report release. The DOJ court-appointed monitor in his audit reports to the federal court over the last 3 years has taken sharp issue with the APD’s data collection and analysis methods with APD ignoring recommendations. Consequently, the report examines the use of force by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) over the two-year period of between January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2017.
The CASA was designed to strengthen APD’s s ability to provide:
1. officer safety and accountability;
2. constitutional, effective policing;
3. high quality police services.
The report presents aggregated statistics regarding use of force by type of force, call types, individual demographics, area commands and other measures. The Use of Force Report was prepared by APD’s Compliance Bureau in conjunction with the Force Division of APD Internal Affairs.
The following definitions were provided in the Use of Force Report to help understand the data reported:
“A ‘Use Of Force Case’ involves an incident with one or more individuals, one or more police officers, and one or more uses of force.
A “Show Of Force Case” involves one or more individuals, one or more police officers, and one or more displays of weapons, but no actual use of force during that incident.
A “Use Of Force Type Or Show Of Force Type” is the specific application of a force type or types in a Use of Force or Show Of Force incident. For example, one police officer may display or use several kinds of force (e.g., display handgun, or empty hand techniques and ECW) with one individual during one encounter. Thus the number of Use Of Force Types Or Show Of Force Types will be higher than the number of individuals involved in Use Of Force or Show Of Force Cases.
Police officers may display weapons, a show of force, as part of an incident which includes an actual use of force. Those cases are categorized as a “Use Of Force Case.” (Use of Force Report, page 6.)
The “Use of Force” report for the 2016 and 2017 contains not data regarding APD’s crisis intervention efforts regarding the mentally ill.
GENERAL FINDINGS IN USE OF FORCE REPORT
General findings contained in the report can be summarized as follows:
1. Use of force was low for both years of 2016 and 2017.
2. APD officers were dispatched to approximately 450,000 calls to provide service in 2016 and that number increased to 480,330 in 2017.
3. Individuals involved in uses of force represented less than one tenth of one percent (0.09%) of those dispatched calls which was an increase from 2015. The 2015 report found that .04% of dispatched calls resulted in an officer using force.
4. The 2015 report found .04% of dispatched calls resulted in an officer using force. City officials believe the increase in use of force 2015 over 2016 and 2017 is likely due to more accurate reporting.
5. Fewer than 2% of all APD arrests involved use of force.
6. In 2016, 48.5% , of people involved in use of force cases were unarmed but about 30% were classified as “unknown.”
7. In 2017, 74.8% of people involved in use of force cases were unarmed.
8. In 2016 and 2017, there were three times as many use-of-force incidents as there were “show of force incidents”, defined as an officer pointing a firearm or other impact weapon at a person. ( NOTE: The 2015 Use of Force Report, compiled by the previous administration does not track “shows of force” incidents which explains the increase according to the report.
9. From 2016 to 2017, show of force incidents rose 35% while at the same time use of force incidents remained constant.
10. Firearm discharges made up to 2% of all use of force cases over the two years, but still rose slightly from 2016 to 2017.
11. Empty-hand techniques such as strikes, grabs, kicks, take downs and distraction techniques made up the majority of use of force cases at 70% in 2016 and 60% in 2017.
12. Fewer people were injured in use-of-force cases. In 2016, 68% of the injured needed to be hospitalized while in 2017, 94% needed to be hospitalized.
13. APD Officers were injured in 23% of use of force cases but had to be hospitalized in less than 3% of those cases.
14. Use of electronic control weapons (TAZERS) increased while other types of use of force decreased.