There is a line between Politics and Law Enforcement that should never be stepped over. The APD Police Union has stepped over that line repeatedly over the last 3 years. Recently, it was revealed just how bad the relationship between Mayor Tim Keller and the police union have fallen when Keller announced programs to reduce crime and when false crime rates were reported. The Police Union President also did a FACEBOOK video endorsing a City Council Candidate in a runoff election supporting a Republican candidate for City Council when the Mayor was supporting the Democratic candidate running.
METRO 15 ANNOUNCEMENT
On Tuesday, November 26, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier held a press conference to announce a 4th program within 9 months to deal with the city’s violent crime and murder rates. At the time of the press conference, the city’s homicide count was at 72, matching the cities record in 2017. It is now at 82 murders for 2019, a historical high.
Keller dubbed the new program “Metro 15 Operation” and it’s part of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) program Keller announced the week before. According to Keller and Geier the new program targets the top 15 most violent offenders in Albuquerque. In other words, it’s the city’s version of the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. According to Keller, the top 15 will be identified by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Once a violent offender is caught, another violent offender will be added to the list.
Under the “Metro 15 Operation” program, APD is supposedly partnering with the Attorney General’s Office, the Bernalillo County District’s Office, the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance, and the state’s Probation and Parole Division. The multi-agency effort will also work with the FBI and the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
During the press conference, Keller had this to say about Metro 15:
“Today isn’t about data, or technology, or planning. It is about bringing all hands-on deck for a crackdown on the worst perpetrators of violent crimes in our city. It’s about going after someone at the right time, with the right set of information so that we can arrest them, keep them in jail, and bring justice to what they have done to our community. … I want to remind everyone the Metro 15 is not about necessarily data or technology; this is about going after the most … we think perpetrators of violence in the Albuquerque area.”
According to APD Chief Geier, the Metro 15 the operation is different from similar tactics because the agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Office of Superintendent of Insurance, and state Probation and Parole, have narrowed their focus to where they believe they’ll have the most impact.
APD Chief Geier had this to say about the Metro 15 Operation:
“We have all had enough. It’s time to take back our city. … We’re working with the District Attorney to put more thought into this in terms of the violent offenders we should be targeting. … We don’t want to use our precious resources and manpower just to organize short-term tactical plans or warrant roundups and put a Band-Aid on the problem.”
APD UNION REACTION TO METRO 15
In a Channel 4 News Report, Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association president Shaun Willoughby was quick with sarcastic and sharp criticism of the Metro 15 Operation and said:
“This Metro 15 – it’s a great concept. It’s a re-branding of a concept we’ve been doing for years … We work well with the DA’s office and I find it good and powerful that all of these entities are coming together because they just told everybody that their credibility is on the line too. … We need to focus on that. Less PR (public relations), less puff, more actual, basic police work. [Community policing is] a great thing for the community. We love taking a group of kids to see a Frozen movie. We want to have relations with this community and we want to build and focus on community policing but the number one attribute of community policing is policing.”
In response to Willoughby’s comments a spokesperson for Mayor Keller told KOB 4:
“Despite resistance from the union leadership, APD has made great strides in meeting the requirements of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement [CASA] and we continue to restore public trust in our officers.”
The Keller Administration also felt it necessary to issue the following statement:
“The first thing Mayor Keller did when he took office was overhaul the police department to more effectively fight crime and invest in officer salaries to make APD recruitment more competitive. We inherited the smallest police force in recent memory at fewer than 850 officers, and we are on track to meet our goal of hiring 100 new officers a year for 4 years. The additional officers allowed APD to more than double the number of homicide detectives, while providing investigative training for all detectives. We created Problem Response Teams in every Area Command, brought back bike patrols, created the Downtown Public Safety District, re-opened community substations, tackled the rape kit backlog, resulting in the prosecution of serial rapists, and created the Violence Intervention Program that has officers who are dedicated to reducing violent crime. Our focus on recruiting is unrelenting.”
THE CRIME RATE FIASCO
On Sunday, December 1, 2019, the Albuquerque Journal ran a front-page story that all the crime rate reductions Mayor Tim Keller reported in his July 1, 2019 press conference were in fact seriously flawed and false. According to the report, both the 2019 mid-year statistics and the statistics released at the end of 2018 were revised dramatically to include hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of more incidents than were initially reported. The final numbers for all of 2018 showed violent crime actually increased, and in many categories the crime rates only dropped in single digits and not the double digits reported by Keller. Keller had been conducting quarterly reports for the last two years and had announce double digit reductions in crime rates.
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said he was worried that the revelation that the decreases are far less significant and will make it harder for the public to trust the Police Department’s briefings in the future:
“I don’t think this was done intentionally, but I think the public is going to have a credibility issue with the Police Department, and this administration [in particular], and we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Hold the thought “we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again.”
POLICE UNION CLAIMS MAYOR TIM KELLER “DISHONORABLE”
On December 6, 2017, just 5 days after being sworn in as Mayor, Tim Keller did a press conference along with his newly appointed Police Chief Michael Geier. The APD command staff stood alongside Mayor Keller to talk about the work ahead of them to reform the Albuquerque Police Department. Mayor Keller said at the press conference:
“I’m a believer in community policing, and that includes one of the pillars of community policing, which is about truthfulness with the public. And in that spirit, I want to start by offering an apology on behalf of City Hall to our community. Our community deserves an apology for its historical tone at the top of the department and a culture of excessive force that has hurt our community. I also want to tell the victims of families who have been hurt by unnecessary use of force that I am sorry, and that we are sorry as your city government. We will work every day to restore trust in our community.Secondly, we also need to apologize for our skyrocketing crime rates. I have heard from hundreds of folks who don’t feel safe and who worry about their families every day. And I want to acknowledge to all the victims of crime in this city and to all the families who have fallen victim to crime that we have let you down in many ways. Public safety is a critical function of government, and we must do better and it starts with owning up to that today.”
A few days after the Mayor’s December 6, 2017 press conference, Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) President Shaun Willoughby claimed his membership were “upset” that Mayor Keller apologized to the citizens’ of Albuquerque for APD’s “culture of excessive use of force” and claimed his phone had been “ringing non-stop from angry cops since the apology” and that the Police union was ‘disappointed’ with mayor’s apologies during his first week in office. Willoughby went on to say that the Mayor’s apology was a “global apology” or a blanket apology for all use of force by the rank-and-file police officers. Willoughby was not even at the press conference and did not hear the words spoken by the Mayor, yet he made his accusation.
Willoughby also claimed that the rank and filed felt “discredited” by the new Mayor and he said on camera:
“It’s important to understand that the APOA is not a political organization. I’m actually employed by the cops that we serve. … I don’t think that the APOA having discontent is wrong or reminding anybody that we felt that, that was dishonorable to apologize for a group of police officers.”
Willoughby actually said with a straight face “APOA is not a political organization.” Least anyone forget, during the 2017 Mayoral race, the APOA Union strongly endorsed Tim Keller to be elected Mayor. If APOA is not a political organization as Police Union President Willoughby claimed, it had absolutely no business endorsing anyone for Mayor, yet in 2017 it interviewed candidates and made an endorsement of Keller.
POLICE UNION STICKS NOSE INTO 2019 DISTRICT 4 CITY COUNCIL RUNOFF RACE
The Albuquerque City Council plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), including controlling its budget, approving staffing levels, budgeting for equipment and training and approving overtime pay funding. Because of this reason, it was no surprise that the Police Union got actively involved with the District 4 City Council runoff race between Republican Brook Bassan and Democrat Ane Romero to replace longtime Republican City Councilor Brad Winters.
APOA President Sean Willoughby did a video FACEBOOK endorsement of Brook Bassan for City Council that was unequivocal. Willoughby says Bassan understands what police go through, she is committed to fully funding APD, staffing and resources. The endorsement was a little over the top and a highly embellished promotion of a candidate that has never been in public service, elected or appointed, and who has no law enforcement background. You can review the video endorsement here:
Republican Brook Bassan was elected over Democrat Ane Romero in the runoff by a 54% to 46% of the vote in former Republican City Councillor Brad Winters’ District.
POLICE UNION MEMBERS PART OF APD MANAGEMENT
On September 10, 2018, Federal Court appointed monitor Dr. James Ginger reported to the federal judge overseeing the Department of Justice reforms that a group of “high-ranking APD officers” within the department were trying to thwart the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) reforms. The federal monitor referred to the group as the “counter-CASA effect”. He revealed that the group of “high-ranking APD officers” were APD Sergeants and Lieutenants. Because Sergeants and Lieutenants are part of the police union they remained in their positions and could not be removed by the APD management command staff.
On November 1, 2019 the Federal Court Appointed Monitor filed his 10th compliance report of the APD reforms mandated under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement. The following major finding stood out:
“Sergeants and lieutenants, at times, go to extreme lengths to excuse officer behaviors that clearly violate established and trained APD policy, using excuses, deflective verbiage, de minimis comments and unsupported assertions to avoid calling out subordinates’ failures to adhere to established policies and expected practice. Supervisors (sergeants) and mid-level managers (lieutenants) routinely ignore serious violations, fail to note minor infractions, and instead, consider a given case “complete”.
CHAIN OF COMMAND VITAL TO CASA REFORM ENFORCEMENT
There is a definite “chain of command” when it comes to APD. All Commanders, Deputy Chiefs and the Chief are “at will” employee positions that serve at the pleasure of the Administration, either the Mayor or Chief. APD has a clear line of authority that separates management from rank and file sworn police officers that must be preserved and honored.
APD police sergeants and lieutenants are on the front line to enforce personnel rules and regulations, standard operating procedures, approve and review work performed and assist in implementing DOJ reforms and standard operating procedures policies. This point was repeatedly made by the Federal Monitor during an August 20, 2019 hearing when he said “until the sergeants are in harness and pulling in the same direction as the chief, things won’t get done as quickly”.
NEW FEDERAL JUDGE, OLD UNION RESISTANCE TO REFORMS
On Tuesday, August 20, 2019, a day long status conference was convened by Federal Judge James Browning to listen to Federal Court Appointed Monitor James Ginger’s third “Outcome and Measures and Analysis Report” on the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). Judge James Browning took over the case from Judge Robert Brack who retired and went on Senior Status. It had been more than a year since the last public status conference was held.
At the August 20, 2019 hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the City of Albuquerque, APD upper command, the police union and the many stakeholders testified. Overall, the consensus throughout the all-day hearing was that APD had improved dramatically. All seem to agree that there is a lot more left to be done with the police reforms. All of the participants said they are committed to seeing the reform through.
During the August 20, 2019 hearing, District Court Judge Browning asked APOA Union President Shawn Willoughby point blank what he and the union rank and file felt about the CASA. Willoughby’s responses were a quick condemnation of the CASA when he said “we hate it”, “we’re frustrated”, the reforms and mandates are “a hard pill to swallow”, that “all [the] change is hard”.
According to Willoughby, police officers are afraid to do their jobs for fear of being investigated, fired or disciplined. In the same breath, Willoughby went on to brag about how his union, unlike other police unions in city’s with consent decrees, actually worked and cooperated with the city and the DOJ.
UNION CLAIMS TO SPEAK THE TRUTH
On December 18, KRQE News 13 reported that Albuquerque Republican State Senator Sander Rue went on record saying he wants the New Mexico State Police to have a larger presence in Albuquerque for at least a year to help the understaffed Albuquerque Police Department (APD) tackle crime. Rue wants 30 more State Police officers in Albuquerque as early as next summer.
Instead of going to Mayor Tim Keller or APD Chief Michael Geier for an interview to respond to the proposal made Senator Rue, Channel 13 went to APO President Willoughby who once again expressed his resentment towards the DOJ consent decree and the reforms by saying:
“I think we are past our pride at this point. … I think it is time for the community to know it is not about pride. It is actually the truth. Your police officers are handcuffed, and we are not going to get the city back under control until they take those cuffs off, and if State Police can come in here without the handcuffs and make an impact on violent crime, I am all about it.”
UNION TAKES CREDIT FOR DOJ REFORM EFFORTS
On Friday, January 10, the City of Albuquerque filed a Motion to have certain portions of the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) suspended and placed into “sustained compliance” and “suspend monitoring” of those requirements by the Federal Court approved monitor. Under the CASA there are 276 mandated reforms requiring auditing by the Federal Monitor.
In the most recent and 10th Independent Monitoring Report, the Federal Monitor reported APD met 100% of CASA-established primary compliance requirements, 81% percent Secondary Compliance requirements and 64% Operational Compliance requirements of the CASA during the reporting period. When all 3 compliance areas reach 95% compliance and maintained for 2 years, the case can be dismissed
The city’s Motion highlights the progress made by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) in implementing the court mandated reforms under the CASA. According to the Motion, the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association, the sole intervenor in the case, agrees with the relief being sought by the City.
On January 11, Mayor Tim Keller made the filing of the motion public for the first time in his State of the City Address, and proclaimed that in the event the Federal Court grants the motion, nearly a quarter, or 67 of the requirements, would be placed in compliance and allow “self-monitoring” and free up sworn police to do police work. Currently, 61 sworn police are assigned to investigate other APD officers to make sure they are meeting the CASA requirements. It has been APD management over the past 5 years that have been primarily responsible for implementation of the reforms, not the police union.
On January 13, in a news interview, police union President Shawn Willoughby proclaimed that the all parties had earned the right to have the Motion granted because of all the progress made with the reforms. Willoughby acted as if he and the union were responsible for the reforms, despite their actual opposition and resistance to the reforms. It also appeared he was speaking for the Keller Administration. The Mayor and the Chief were never interviewed on the motion.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What is “actually the truth” to use Willoughby’s words, is it that he and his union have done everything possible to undercut the goals and objectives of the DOJ reforms and the consent decree. It is so damn laughable when union President Willoughby actually said about the recent crime rate statistics fiasco:
“I think the public is going to have a credibility issue with the Police Department, and this administration and we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again.”
The “actual truth” is the APD Union has never been a “team player” with APD management and never will be. Further, the union credibility with the general public is highly questionable given the past performance of APD and its union membership.
What is very problematic is that no one knows for certain to what extent the union is influencing the actions of the Sergeants and Lieutenants to resist the implementation of the CASA reforms that the union opposes. Union President Willoughby made it clear the union membership “hates” the CASA, feels the reforms are “a hard pill to swallow” and that they believe “all change is hard”.
UNION HAS POLITICIZED APD
In 2013, 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 ten (10 ) years, there has been 43 police officer involved shootings, and the city has paid out $62 million dollars in settlements for police misconduct cases. Virtually all those cases of use of force or deadly force were by union officers, not management, something no one wants to talk about or even mention.
The single biggest crisis the Mayor and the City Council are dealing with even today is staffing APD, reforming the Albuquerque Police Department and reducing our high crime rates.
City Council plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) including controlling its budget. Union President Sean Willoughby just had to stick his nose into the City Council District 4 race, no doubt expecting something in return. Under normal circumstances, city union endorsements are common place. However, when it comes to the Albuquerque Police Department, it is a law enforcement department still in crisis. APD for the first time in its history is under a Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree. The police union has fully politicized the department with its endorsement of candidates for Mayor and City Council.
The police union opposing many of the reforms mandated by the DOJ consent decree complicates the oversight authority of the Mayor and the City council and with the civilian oversight mandated. The APOA has made it clear that it does not like the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree nor the mandated reforms. The police union has repeatedly said the mandated reforms under the consent decree are interfering with rank and file officer’s ability to performing their jobs, yet never giving any sort of examples of exactly how that is the case.
The Police Union understands the Department of Justice consent decree in that the police union leadership attended and has sat at counsel table during court hearings and Federal Monitor presentations. The union leadership was at the negotiating table for the full year in the drafting of the “use of force” and “deadly use of force” policy.
No doubt Willoughby and the union membership believe prohibiting APD from using “choke holds”, “shooting at fleeing cars”, getting rid of lapel cameras and “escalating confrontations” will allow APD Officers to do their jobs more effectively, and they would like to be free to ignore people’s civil and constitutional rights under the guise of law enforcement.
WILLOUGHBY AND POLICE UNION ARE THE LASTS ONES TO TALK ABOUT CREDIBILITY
Willoughby is the same union President who had no problem with the union paying $2,000 to police officers who were placed on administrative leave after police involved use of deadly force incident and before the killing was determined “justified”.
Willoughby did not like the fact that the Bernalillo County District Attorney brought criminal charges against police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez for the shooting of homeless camper James Boyd. Willoughby has said in the past that Perez was acquitted of the murder of James Boyd which was not the case seeing as that the jury could not reach a verdict, a hung jury resulting in a mistrial declared, and the District Attorney decided not to retry the case.
Officer Willoughby ostensibly feels the citizens who pay his salary are not entitled to any sort of apology for the actions of his members of the union who are found to use unreasonable force, or unjustified excessive use of force or unjustified deadly force nor when taxpayer’s payout millions for police misconduct.
The Union’s credibility has been in short supply for some time now. The police union has done very little to improve it, especially with its opposition to the Department of Justice reforms. The APOA union has never issued an apology when one of its own members has broken the law or has used unreasonable or unnecessary force or unnecessary deadly force even after large judgments have been paid out for the police misconduct. Yet, when the Mayor issues an apology, as was his right, the union calls it “dishonorable”.
When Mayor Keller and Chief Geier take steps to try and address a crisis in homicides, what they get from the Union leadership is “what have you done for us lately” attitude and nasty sarcasm of:
“We need to focus … less [on] PR (public relations), less puff, more actual, basic police work. [Community policing is] a great thing for the community. We love taking a group of kids to see a Frozen movie. … .”
One small way the Police Union President could help restore credibility is to stop his news interviews and stop acting like he speaks for the Keller administration and management of the department under the guise of first amendment rights. At a minimum, he needs to decline all interviews and comments on the reforms and other matters unless the Administration has been spoken to first for comment to get its take.
REMOVE APD SERGEANTS AND LIEUTENANTS FROM UNION
If the police union and its President Willoughby want to genuinely be a “team player” and help restore credibility to APD, he and his union should agree to remove the Sergeants and Lieutenants from the bargaining unit. Police sergeants and lieutenants by virtue of their titles, responsibilities, management and supervisory authority over sworn police officers are part of the “chain of command” management team of the police department. Including APD police sergeants and lieutenants who are part of management in the union bargaining unit creates a clear conflict within management and sends mixed messages to rank and file sworn police officers.
All APD police sergeants and lieutenants are clearly part of police management and chain of command and should not be a part of the union. The police union refuses to acknowledge or agree to removal of the sergeants and lieutenants from the bargaining unit knowing it will eliminate the unions ability to influence them in management and it will reduce the size of the dues paying union membership.
Sergeants and lieutenants need to be made at will employees and removed from the union bargaining unit in order to get a real buy in to management’s goals of police reform and the CASA. APD Police sergeants and lieutenants cannot serve two masters of Administration Management and Union priorities that are in conflict when it comes to the CASA reforms.
Perhaps when the Sergeants and Lieutenants are removed for the Union, the union will get back some semblance of credibility with the voting public and the average citizens who are victims of our high crime rates. More importantly, it would signal that the Police Union is fully committed to police oversight by management. Another way the Union could regain trust with the Mayor and the Chief is to offer to take them to see “Frozen”.