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. The city’s Motion highlights the progress made by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) in implementing the court mandated reforms under the CASA.
It was on November 16, 2014, that the City and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). The agreement contains 276 requirements for reforming the police department. The settlement required the appointment of a Federal Court Monitor to perform audits on the progress of the all reform. Thus far, 11 federal monitor reports have been filed. The link to the CASA is here:
According to the Motion, the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association, the sole intervenor in the case, agreed with the relief being sought by the City in the original motion to suspend filed. The court appointed federal monitor took no position on the City’s motion. In the city’s motion, the city was seeking that APD self-assess upwards of 25% of the 276 settlement agreement requirements.
The requirements that would be self-monitored would be the operation of a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, field officer recruitment and training, and management of the department’s Special Operations Division. The DOJ and the monitoring team have been working with the City and APD on a “self-assessment” plan. The plan was to determine to what extent APD has in fact come into compliance with all the reforms and the extent of the need for further monitoring. In March, a 51-page self-assessment plan was filed with the Federal Court for approval.
MOTION TO WITHDRAW
On Friday, August 21, the City Attorney’s Office filed a “Motion to Withdraw” its “Motion to Suspend” certain portions of the settlement and allow for self-assessment and monitoring. Since the filing of the motion, hearings on the motion and the plan for self-assessment have been repeatedly scheduled only to be continued because of the pandemic. As grounds for withdrawal, the City Attorney is now citing the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis and pandemic’s lockdown orders.
According to Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, the decision to put off consideration of the plan indefinitely was made in consultation with the other parties in the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the APD Police Union, the Federal Monitor and all the others stakeholders in the case do not oppose the Motion to Withdraw. An agreed order sign by the parties and the Federal Judge granting the request will be filed. APD will continue to work on the plan for self-assessment and will revisit the issue once things have settled down with the pandemic. APD spokesman Gallegos had this to say in a statement:
“APD was forced to devote additional time and resources over the past six months to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, while also ensuring public safety during 35 protests in the city. … APD will need to continue to devote time and resources to the COVID-19 impact for at least the next few months. In addition, we want to continue to get input from the amici groups on these plans.”
The agreement, signed in 2014, lays out 276 requirements for reforming the police department, ranging from when and how officers should use force, how the use of force should be reported and how it should be investigated, to how special units such as SWAT or Crisis Intervention Teams should operate.
On April 10, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, submitted a scathing 46-page investigation report on an 18-month civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). You can read the entire report here.
A significant number of the use of force cases reviewed involved persons suffering from acute mental illness and who were in crisis. The investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision did not ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness failed o to ensure rights were respected and police did not act in a manner that was safe for all involve.
What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from the other federal investigations of police departments and consent decrees 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. The DOJ’s finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD dealt with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill and that were having psychotic episodes.
APD REQUIRED STAFFING FOR DOJ CONSENT DECREE
It is the APD Compliance Bureau that is primarily responsible for enforcing the mandates under the CASA. The Compliance Bureaus consists of the Internal Affairs Professional Standards Division, Policy and Procedure Division, Accountability and Oversight Division, Internal Affairs Force Division and the Behavioral Health and Crisis Intervention Section and includes funding for training provided by the APD Academy for constitutional policing practices.
The 2020 -2021 City Council approved budget has a line item funding of $34,042,000 for APD Professional Accountability. This funding is essentially funding for the Compliance Bureau and the 5 divisions it consists of and includes APD Academy training associated with the Department of Justice Consent Decree reforms and enforcement. According to the August 1, 2019 “Staffing Snapshot”, the Compliance Bureau has total staffing of 61 sworn police consisting of 40 Detectives, 1 Deputy Chief, 3 Commanders, 1 Deputy Commander, 6 Lieutenants, 10 Sergeants.
One of the major concentrations of the Compliance Bureau is the ongoing cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree (CASA) and its implementation of its terms and conditions. Internal Affairs deals with investigation police misconduct cases. Crisis Intervention deals with the crisis intervention teams who deal with the mentally ill. Policy and Procedures deals with the review and writing of standard operating procedures.
The city currently employees one Assistant City Attorney who is the former United State Attorney for New Mexico paying $150,000 and one retired Federal Magistrate billed and paid for on contract to review and write APD Policy.
COMPLETED MANDATED REFORMS
On November 16 , 2020, it will be a full 6 years that has expired since the city entered into the CASA with the DOJ. It was originally agreed that the settlement implementation would be completed within 4 years, but the previous Republican Administration engaged in delay and obstruction tactics found by the Federal Monitor. Now after almost 6 full years the following mandated reforms under the CASA have been completed:
1. After a full year of negotiations, new “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies have been written, implemented and all APD sworn have received training on the policies.
2. All sworn police officers have received 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 of new use of force and deadly force policies have been completed.
6. “Constitutional policing” practices and methods, and mandatory crisis intervention techniques an de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have been implemented at the APD police academy with all sworn police having received 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. Civilian Police Oversight Agency has been created, funded, fully staffed and a director hired.
11. The Community Policing Counsels (CPCs) have been created in all area commands and the CPCs meet monthly.
12. The Mental Health Advisory Committee has been implemented.
13. The CASA identified that APD was understaffed. The City and APD are in the process of spending $88 million dollars, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and grow the department to 1,200 officers. As of January 1, 2020, APD has 949 full time police officers, up from 878 sworn police. The expansion thus far is attributed primarily to hiring from other departments and returning to work APD retirees.
14. In November, 2018 APD achieved 99.6% compliance with primary tasks, 75.4% secondary compliance and 59.5% operational compliance with APD making significant progress in overall compliance.
15. According to the Use of Force Report for the years 2017 and 2018, APD’s “use of force” and “deadly force” is down dramatically , which was one of the primary objectives of the CASA reforms.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is disappointing that the city decided to withdraw the “Motion to Suspend” portions of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). The city arguments are very weak at best that “APD was forced to devote additional time and resources over the past six months to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 …” and that APD needs to “continue to devote time and resources to the COVID-19 impact for at least the next few months.” The truth is 61 fully funded APD positions are devoted to the DOJ reform process, positions that are not likely being used at all to deal with the pandemic.
After review of the city’s motion, the DOJ investigation report, the 276 CASA mandates, the 11 Independent Monitors Reports and the reforms implemented, a major conclusion that can be reached is the spirit and intent of the CASA has been attained. The motion was viewed by many as a precursor to dismissal of the entire case sooner rather than later.
The biggest complaint of all the DOJ consent decrees in the country is implementation and enforcement “go on and on” for years, costing millions in taxpayer dollars. With expected, continued implementation of the DOJ reforms a 95% to 100% compliance with all the CASA primary, secondary and operational compliance goals should be achievable within 12 months, if not much sooner.
The role of the federal monitor should be reduced, as was being requested in the original motion, as well as the continued costs of the monitoring team reduced. The city should commence negotiations immediately with the DOJ for a stipulated “Order of Complete Compliance and Dismissal” of the CASA, and all causes of action the DOJ has against the city and APD. Otherwise, the city and taxpayers will be sucked into “year after year” of expenses and costs associated with a consent decree whose primary objective has been achieved and whose federal monitor wants another $4 million to audit progress.
Sooner rather than later there must come a time when APD needs to be dismissed from the case. APD needs to be able to do its job without the Department of Justice (DOJ) constantly monitoring and looking over its shoulder. City Hall, the Mayor and the City Council need to be forced do their jobs along with the Police Oversight Commission of civilian oversight and holding APD accountable for constitutional policing practices.
The documents related to APD’s settlement agreement include:
The Settlement Agreement between City and the DOJ
APD Progress Reports
Independent Monitor’s Reports
Use of Force Annual Reports
Use of Force Reports
The link to review and download the documents is here:
For a related blog article see:
City Moves To Be Released From Portions Of DOJ Consent Decree And Monitoring; Commentary: Intent And Purpose Of CASA Accomplished, Dismiss Case