On June 6, 2020, the New York Times published a news article on line entitled “How Police Unions Became Such Powerful Opponents to Reform Efforts”. The New York Times article discusses that as demands for police reform have mounted across the country in the aftermath of police violence or shootings resulting in death, unions have emerged as significant roadblocks to police reforms and change. According to the NY Times article, the greater the political pressure for police reform, the more defiant police unions become in resisting police reforms. The unions are aggressively protecting the rights of members accused of misconduct. The article reports that unions can be so effective at defending their members that cops with a pattern of abuse can be left untouched, ostensibly undisciplined and they remain on the force.
The New York Times article discusses the Baltimore, Maryland case where the city and the Justice Department (DOJ) reached a consent decree in 2017 to overhaul police conduct. The Baltimore Police union for its part described a police department in chaos, with severe staff shortages and low morale and those who remain said they feel unsupported by their commanders. In other instances, the article discusses how unions have not resisted reforms outright, but have made them difficult to put in place. The New York Times reports that federal intervention is often one of the few reliable ways of reforming police departments. However, it was also reported that in Cleveland, the union helped slow the adoption of reforms mandated by a federal consent decree. Cleveland police union president at the time of the consent decree, said he and his colleagues saw some of the mandated rules as counter productive.
The link to the entire New York Times article is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
On November 10, 2014, the City and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) entered into a 106-page Federal Court Approve Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating 270 reforms after a Department of Justice investigation found a culture of aggression and excessive use of force and deadly force by APD. The CASA mandates that APD adopt a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for misconduct and violations of policies, especially violations of excessive use of force and deadly force.
Personnel procedures were implemented which included outlining details how use of force cases and deadly force cases must be investigated. The CASA requires far more reporting by officers and field supervisors. It requires detailed reviews of those reports up the chain of command within the department. Sergeants and lieutenants are required to be much more involved in field supervision and review of use of force and deadly force.
NY TIMES ARTICLE FAMILIAR IS WHEN COMES TO APD
If after you read the full New York Times article, and you have lived in Albuquerque for any length of time, and you find it all sounds way too familiar, it’s because it is and its happening in Albuquerque with the Albuquerque Police Department and its police union.
The 106 page settlement agreement was hammered out by the previous Republican City Administration over at least an 8 month period of time with the Department of Justice. Two so called nationally recognized law enforcement experts in consent decrees were retained by the city at the cost of $1 million dollars to the taxpayer.
Once the settlement was worked out it was presented to the federal court for approval by the City and the Department of Justice. The APD Union was not a named party to the original civil rights complaint for excessive use of force and deadly force filed against the city and APD by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The police union was not a part of the negotiations for the CASA.
TACTICAL MISTAKE ALLOWING UNION TO BE PARTY TO LAWSUITE
Soon after the DOJ initiated the federal lawsuit against APD and the City, the APOA Police Union intervened to become a party to the federal lawsuit in order to advocate for union interests in city policy. The City, instead of opposing the intervention to the lawsuit agreed to it and the Federal Court went along with it. Allowing the union to intervene and become a party to the lawsuit was a major tactical mistake by the city.
What was of particular concern for the union was any and all changes to the “use of force” and “deadly force policies” that would restrict police usage of use of force and deadly force. The APD Police Union, despite public comments of cooperation and comments made to the Federal Court, has never fully supported the agreed to reforms. The APD Police Union contributed significantly to the delay in writing the new use of force and deadly force policies.
The union leadership has always been at the negotiating table. For a full year, the union representative was involved with the drafting new “use of force” and “deadly use of force” policy. The union contributed to the one-year delay in writing the policies objecting to many provisions of the policies. The police union repeatedly objected to the language of the use of force policy asserting the policy was unreasonable. This was evidenced by the Federal Monitors claim that submitted use of force policy was missing key components and the monitor saw 50-plus changes needing to be made to satisfy union objections.
POLICE UNION CREDIBILITY IN SHORT SUPPLY WHEN IT COMES TO CLAIMS OF SUPPORTING DOJ REFORMS
Not once has the police union ever criticized any of its membership for excessive use of force and deadly force. The Police 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. The police union, and in particular Union President Shaun Willoughby has an extensive history of defending police officers who have more than likely than not violated people civil rights with the use of “excessive force” and “deadly force.”
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 and APD command staff to talk about the work ahead of them to reform the Albuquerque Police Department. Mayor Keller said at the press conference in part:
“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. … ”
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”. The Police union went so far as to say it 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. Further, APOA President Sean Willoughby stuck his nose in the last city council race and did a video FACEBOOK endorsement of Brook Bassan for City Council that was unequivocal.
You can review the video endorsements here:
OTHER INSTANCES AFFECTING UNION 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”. The public perception was terrible. Outcries that the police union was giving out a reward for the shootings were made by police reform advocates with many saying the money paid encouraged the “culture of aggression” found by the Department of Justice.
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. Willoughby also ignored the fact that the city paid the Boyd family $5 million to settle the wrongful death action brought.
Over the last 9 years, the city has paid upwards of $64 million dollars to settle excessive use of force and deadly force cases and not once did Willoughby say he was offended, disappointed or troubled by the conduct of one of his union members.
COUNTER CASA EFFECT
It was on September 10, 2018, at a status telephone conference call held with the US District Court Judge that Federal Monitor Dr. James Ginger first told the federal judge that a group of “high-ranking APD officers” within the department were trying to thwart the reform efforts.
The Federal Monitor revealed that the group of “high-ranking APD officers” were APD sergeants and lieutenants. Because sergeants and lieutenants are part of the police bargaining unit they remained in their positions and could not be removed by the Chief. Then APD Chief Michael Geier also reported that he had noticed some “old-school resistance” to reforms mandated by the CASA. At the time, Chief Geier reported he replaced a number of commanders with others who agree with police reforms. However, Chief Geier reported he could not replace the sergeants nor lieutenants who were resisting the reforms because of the union contract.
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. When the “counter casa” effect was first described by former Chief Geier and the Federal Monitor, the union essentially ignored the accusation and had little to say at least in open court.
UNION OBJECTIONS TO CASA
During all the Court proceeding where the federal monitor has made his presentation to the federal court, the APOA union has made its opposition and objections known to the federal court regarding the use of force and deadly force policies. The union has always argued that the new use of force and deadly force policies were too restrictive with rank and file claiming police cannot do their jobs and that their hands are tied.
Nine of the 11 Federal Monitor’s status reports have been scathing against the city accusing the previous APD chain of command of delaying and obstructing the DOJ reform process, yet the police union had no comment and took no position. When the previous administration accused the federal monitor of biasness and attempted to have the monitor removed, after the Assistant Chief secretly tape a conference meeting with the monitor, the police union remained totally silent ostensibly giving its support to have the federal monitor removed.
The police union and its leadership have said in open court that the mandated reforms under the consent decree are interfering with rank and file officer’s ability to perform their job duties. During the August 20, 2019, a day long status conference, the APOA union President Shaun Willoughby made it clear his union membership attitude towards the CASA reforms. District Court Judge Browning asked APOA Union President Shawn Willoughby 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 change is hard”.
AFRAID TO DO THEIR JOBS IS DIVERSION TACTIC
According to Willoughby, police officers are afraid to do their jobs for fear of being investigated, fired or disciplined. The police union has never articulated in open court and in clear terms exactly what it is about the reforms that are keeping rank and file from “doing their” jobs and “why they hate” the CASA as articulated by the union president. It’s likely the union feels what is interfering with police from doing their jobs is the mandatory use of lapel cameras, police can no longer shoot at fleeing cars, police can no longer use choke holds, police need to use less lethal force and not rely on the SWAT unit, police must use de-escalating tactics and be trained in crisis intervention, and management must hold police accountable for violation of standard operating procedures.
What was so damn laughable is when Union President Willoughby says that the union cooperated and participated with the reforms unlike all other Departments in other cities faced with a consent decree. What the union has actually been doing for the last 6 years was disrupting the process by not being fully committed to the reforms and changes and doing what it could to water down the changes to the “use of force” and “deadly force” policies.
It is well settled and basic labor law tenant that there is a hardline line between “management” and “employee” positions, responsibilities, rights and authority. Further, APD is a “para-military” organization and as such the “chain of command” must be honored and the lines of authority must not be blurred to the point where management and subordinates become one and the same for the purpose of enforcing policy. Allowing management positions to be part of employee bargaining unit is a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what is being played out with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement.
Sergeants and lieutenants need to be made at will employees and removed from the collective 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.
The current police union contract expired on June 30. The City and the Union have now suspended their negotiations because of the corona virus pandemic and the uncertainty of the city’s revenues for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The union contract negotiations must commence soon. Until a new union contract is negotiated and approved, the terms and conditions of the old contract will remain in effect.
The Police Union no doubt wants to continue the terms of the expired contract, including who is in the collective bargaining unit. There is no real excuse to delay negotiations on the police union contract. Delay will only allow the Union to continue dictating to the city what should be done and continue its efforts to obstruct implementation of the police reforms under the CASA.
Another option the City and the Department of Justice need to explore is to move for the dismissal of the police union from the federal court proceeding. This will allow APD command staff and management more authority do its job with enforcement of the CASA mandates and implementation of all 270 reforms.