On December 18, US Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is initiating a major crackdown aimed at driving down violent crime in 7 of the nation’s most violent cities in the country. Not at all surprising is that Albuquerque is one of those cities. The other 6 cities are Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee. All 7 cities have violent crime rates significantly higher and above the national average.
At a news conference in Detroit, Michigan, AG Bar dubbed the initiative “Operation Relentless Pursuit”. The federal agencies that will participate and be involved are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Marshals Service.
AG Barr is an ardent backer of law enforcement and had a tough-on-crime approach when he was Attorney General in the early 1990s as the national violent crime rates peaked.
Since becoming Attorney General for a second time in February, Barr has vowed to use the federal government’s resources to drive down violent crime in cities where the crime rate has been rising. Targeting violent crime, prosecuting violent criminals and gun offenders has been a top priority for the Justice Department (DOJ) since Barr took over after his appointment as AG by President Donald Trump.
COMMITTED FEDERAL RESOURCES
The DOJ will intensify federal law enforcement resources in the 7 cities by increasing the number of federal law enforcement officers in each of the cities and add additional officers to federal task forces. According to Barr, the DOJ is committing up to $71 million in federal grant funds that can help fund the task forces, be used to hire new police officers, pay overtime and purchase new equipment and technology.
The federal law enforcement agencies will work with local and state law enforcement agencies to identify and target violent criminals, members of drug cartels and gun traffickers by utilizing available federal resources and intelligence. ATF’s national database known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which can help match images of bullet cases collected at crime scenes to link shootings will be used.
AG Barr, to the surprise of DOJ observers, has embraced a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure known as the “First Step Act”. The First Step Act gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders, eases mandatory minimum sentences and encourages inmates to participate in programs designed to reduce the risk of recidivism, with credits that can be used to gain an earlier release.
During a press conference in Albuquerque, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson explained what the money will mean for Albuquerque and said:
“We are committed to bringing the weight of federal charges against the most dangerous violent criminals plaguing our city. … We will deploy all the tools at our disposal to bring an end to the plight of gun violence in our city.”
The Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said they both welcomed the extra help from the federal government. BCSO Sheriff Manny Gonzales had this to say:
“… everybody in this community is concerned about the escalating violence, and bottom line is that the problem’s been identified. … We have a crime crisis.”
ALBUQUERQUE HOMICIDE AND VIOLENT CRIME RATES
According to Attorney General William Bar, Albuquerque has a violent crime rate that is 3.7 times the national average per capita , and the cities aggravated assaults are 4 times the national average per capita.
Albuquerque’s FBI Uniform Crime statistics for the years 2008 to 2018 reveal just how bad violent crime has increased in Albuquerque over the last 10 years. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults and have all increased. The hard numbers for the last 10 years reflect that crime has not declined much and that like a waive on a beach, it had “ebbed and flowed” over the years but have risen none the less to all time highs.
As of December 18, there have been 77 murders in Albuquerque. On December 9, 2019, the city recorded its 74th homicide, the all-time record of homicides in one year in the city’s history. The previous record was in 2017 with 72 murders. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year.
The total number of violent crimes and aggravated assaults have ebbed and flowed over the last 10 years, but still have reached historical highs. You can review the hard numbers in the below postscript.
Mayor Keller and Chief Michael Geier have announced 4 separate programs within nine months to combat our city’s violent crime and murder rates. Those programs are: the Shield Unit, Declaring Violent Crime “public health” issue, “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP) and the Metro 15.
OBJECTIVES, SPIRIT AND INTENT OF CASA ACHIEVED
It has now been over a full 5 years since the city entered into the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” within APD and after 18 police officer involve shooting. Upwards of $64 million has been paid out in settlements for 32 police officer involved shootings and excessive use of force or deadly force. APD has now been operating under the watchful eye of the Federal Court and a federal court appointed monitor costing the city taxpayer upwards of $6 million for 10 audits.
New “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies were written and implemented with all APD sworn receiving training on the policies. All APD sworn have received at least 40 hours crisis management intervention training. APD has created a “Use of Force Review Board” that oversees all internal affairs investigations of use of force and deadly force cases.
Sweeping changes ranging from APD’s SWAT team protocols, to banning choke holds, to auditing the use of every Taser carried by officers and have been completed. “Constitutional policing” practices and methods as well as mandatory crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have now been implemented at the APD Police Academy with all sworn also having received the training. APD has adopted a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for all use of force incidents. Personnel procedures have been implemented detailing how use of force cases are investigated. APD has also revised and updated its policies on the mandatory use of lapel cameras by all sworn police officers.
Currently, there are 61 sworn police assigned to the compliance bureaus, which includes APD Internal Affairs. There are 40 detectives involved with the Department of Justice reform enforcement. Those 40 officers would be better utilized in the field services patrolling the streets or assigned to the investigation bureaus.
From all appearances, and from review of all the Federal Monitor’s reports, the City and APD have completed the following mandated reforms under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement:
1. The new “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies have been written, implemented. All APD sworn have received training on the policies.
2. All sworn have received at least 40 hours crisis management intervention training.
3. APD has created a “Use of Force Review Board” that oversees all internal affairs investigations of use of force and deadly force.
4. The Internal Affairs Unit has been divided into two sections, one dealing with general complaints and the other dealing with use of force incidents.
5. Sweeping changes ranging from APD’s SWAT team protocols, to banning choke holds, to auditing the use of every Taser carried by officers and re writing and implementation in new use of force and deadly force policies have been completed.
6. “Constitutional policing” practices and methods as well as mandatory crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have now been implemented at the APD Police Academy with all sworn also having received the training.
7. APD has adopted a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for all use of force incidents with personnel procedures implemented detailing how use of force cases are investigated.
8. APD has revised and updated its policies on the mandatory use of lapel cameras by all sworn police officers.
9. The Repeat Offenders Project, known as ROP, has been abolished.
10. Police Oversight Board has been created, funded, fully staffed and a director has hired been hired and his contract renewed.
11. The Community Policing Counsels have been created in all area command and the counsels meet monthly.
12. The Mental Health Advisory Committee has been implemented.
13. The CASA identified that APD was severely understaffed. APD has gone from 850 sworn police to now 980 and intends to add an additional 300.
14. The federal monitors 10th report issued on November 1, reported APD met 100% of CASA-established primary compliance requirements during the reporting period. Secondary compliance rates (training) were reported at 81%, up from 79% and overall compliance rates are at 63%, the same as the 9th audit report.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Given Albuquerque’s skyrocketing violent crime rates, there is no reason to doubt the reason why Albuquerque is one of the 7 cities to be included in the DOJ’s “Operation Relentless Pursuit”. Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier are probably extremely happy that the DOJ will be helping with “Operation Relentless Pursuit” in an attempt to bring down the cities violent crime rates.
One thing Keller and Geier probably also realize is that what APD is doing with the 4 programs they have announced to reduce violent crime are simply not getting the job done, and neither is APD. There is no guarantee that the DOJ’s “Operation Relentless Pursuit” will be any more effective than what APD has been doing, but it’s worth a try. What is also worth trying is for the City to approach US Attorney General William Barr and ask the DOJ to agree with a stipulated dismissal of the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).
Now that AG Bar has acknowledged just how bad violent crime in Albuquerque has become, now is the time to approach Barr and the DOJ about the dismissal of the federal cause of action that resulted in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). In addition to the resources AG Bar is committing to the City, he should be willing or want APD to do more. Sworn police assigned to DOJ compliance should be reassigned to do actual law enforcement. The duties and responsibilities of the 40 sworn police in the compliance bureau can be performed by civilian staff with the Office of Inspector General and the Department of Human Service to continue withe the DOJ reforms.
With the continued implementation of the DOJ reforms, especially those reforms involving the mentally ill, the spirit and intent of the CASA has been achieved and for these reasons every effort should be made to seek a dismissal of the federal lawsuit. The city should commence negotiations immediately with the DOJ for a stipulated “Order of Compliance and Dismissal” of the CASA, and all causes of action the DOJ has against the city and APD.
The number of HOMICIDES reported each year from 2008 to 2019 are:
2019: 77 homicides as of December 18, 2019
The number of AGGRAVATED ASSAULTS (assaults with deadly weapon) reported each year from 2008 to 2018 are:
The total number of VIOLENT CRIMES (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined) reported each year from 2008 to 2018 are:
2017: 7,686 (Aggravated Assaults: 4,213, Non-Fatal Shootings: 470)
2018: 6,789 (Aggravated Assaults: 3,885, Non-Fatal Shootings: 491)