On April 15, Federal Judge James Browning held a “status conference” on the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the City and the Department of Justice (DOJ). It was the very first hearing since Mayor Tim Keller appointed Harold Medina as the permanent APD Chief and Sylvester Stanly as “Interim” Superintendent of Police Reform. The status conference was held via Zoom Video/Web Conferencing.
During the two-hour status conference, the court was told of the progress made in creating the External Force Investigations Team (EFIT), the application process for an Administrator of EFIT and the extent and authority of the new manager and Sylvester Stanly. The EFIT team will train APD Internal Affairs (IA) investigators on how to properly investigate uses of force instances by APD police officers. The City agreed that at least 25 force investigators would be assigned to the APD Internal Affairs until APD demonstrates that fewer investigators are necessary to timely investigate uses of force by APD Officers.
Also discussed was the control Interim Superintendent of Police Reform Sylvester Stanly will have over the APD Academy, Force Investigations and Professional Standards. Chief Medina and Interim Superintendent Sylvester Stanly both spoke during the hearing as did the City Attorney, the DOJ Attorneys, the Union Attorney and the Federal Monitor. According to the city, it has two highly qualified individuals that have applied to be the EFIT manager.
DISCLOSURES MADE DURING FEDERAL COURT STATUS CONFERENCE
The most surprising disclosure made during the hearing came when Federal Judge Browning asked Federal Court Appointed Monitor James Ginger what his thoughts were on the appointment of Chief Harold Medina as the new APD Chief. Dr. Ginger’s response was less than enthusiastic with a degree of disappointment. The Federal Monitor thought that APD needed an “external chief” or an “outsider” and in his words someone “nationally” with experience in DOJ reforms. Ginger expressed the opinion that such an outside person was needed to “effectuate real change” within APD.
Ginger acknowledge that hiring such a person would be “expensive” and that there are few people in the country that have the reputation of being “reform chief’s”. He also said they usually can “write their own ticket” as to salary. Federal Monitor Ginger has no management nor control over APD Personnel. He has no authority to hire and fire. Ginger emphasized that all he can do is make recommendations. Ginger made it clear that Mayor Keller and the City were free to hire whoever they want as Chief, that he could not object, but only offer his opinion that APD needs someone from the outside.
The Court did not ask the Federal Monitor how he felt Chief Medina had been doing for the 7 months he has been charge of APD. The monitor did not volunteer his thoughts on Medina’s job performance nor the progress Medina had made with implementing the reforms. When the Judge asked the Federal Monitor what could be expected in his 13th Monitor’s report, which will be filed the first week of May, Ginger said the report will contain more of the same as to APD’s failure to police itself or oversee itself.
CITY CREATS GORDION KNOT WITH CASA REFORMS
Another revelation made during the status conference was when Judge Browning asked the Police Union Attorney John D’Amato if the CASA mandated reforms and settlement were the cause of the city’s high crime rates. D’Amato made it clear that the CASA was not the cause of the high crime rates but it was a contributing factor as was a degree of politics. What he said is that the City’s “implementation” of the CASA reforms is the problem and said the city has created a “Gordian Knot”, a term commonly used to describe a complex or unsolvable problem, by having a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violations of use of force review and enforcement.
D’Amato said that the CASA reforms were a “major contributing factor” to the City’s high crime rates. City Attorney Estaban Aguilar pushed backed sharply and disagreed with D’Amato to the point saying that such comments were dangerous and said there is no data to support the accusation and that it was a false narrative. Aguilar did say there are “multiple factors causing the increase in crime” but the CASA reforms are not a factor.
According to the union attorney, there is a need to simplify the CASA. The union attorney denied that the police union is the “counter casa” which is totally contrary to what the Federal Monitor has in fact said in a few of his audit reports. The Federal Monitor has repeatedly defined the counter CASA effect as Sergeants and Lieutenants, who are union members and also management, as overtly resisting the reforms.
APD EXECUTIVE SALARIES
It was revealed in August, 2020, a few weeks before Mayor Keller fired former Chief Michel Geier, that the Keller administration created the positions of First Deputy Chief, Second Deputy Chief, APD Chief of Staff and APD Deputy Chief of Staff with significant raises given to all those appointed.
The August 18, 2020, City of Albuquerque Pay Rate Report for the Albuquerque Police Department reflects the following hourly and yearly pay for the 7 in the Chief’s upper command staff brass as follows:
1. Chief Of Police Michael Geier, yearly pay: $183,378.60
2. First Deputy Chief Harold Medina, yearly pay: $145,017.60 ($69.72 per hour X 2,080 hours a year)
3. Second Deputy Chief Michael Jay Smathers, yearly pay: $143, 000.00 ($68.75 per hour X 2,080 hours a year)
4. Deputy Chief Jon J. Griego, yearly pay: $139,235.20 ($66.94 per hour X 2080 hours a year)
5. Deputy Chief Eric J Garcia, yearly pay: $139, 235.20 ($66.94 per hour X 2,080 hours a year )
6. Arturo E. Gonzalez, Deputy Chief, yearly pay: $139,235.20 ($66.94 per hour X 2,080 hours a year)
7. APD Chief of Staff John Ross, yearly pay: $139,235.20 ($66.94 per hour X 2,080 hours a year)
8. APD Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo, yearly pay: $118, 331.20 ($56.89 per hour X 2,080 hours)
TOTAL 2020 SALARIES PAID APD EXECUTIVE COMMAND STAFF: $1,007,433.00
According to city payroll records, Interim Superintendent of Police Reform Sylvester Stanly is being paid $150,000 a year.
2020-2021 APD BUDGET ALLOCATS $35,851,000 FOR CASA REFORMS
On Monday, October 19, 2020, the Albuquerque City Council enacted the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget with the fiscal year budget beginning on July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021. The enacted budget totals $1.1 Billion dollars for second year in a row and for that reason is considered a zero-growth budget.
The Fiscal Year 2020-2021 approved general fund budget for APD contains a line item of $29,280,000 for “PD-PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY”. According 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, and 10 Sergeants. In addition to the $29,280,000 line item allocation, the 2020-2021 APD approved budget includes:
$5.2 million for continued work to comply with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice, which is understood to be funding for the Federal Monitor.
$627,000 to acquire electronic control weapons that have an audit trail to monitor usage and compliance with use of force policies.
$594,000 to purchase on-body cameras, as required by the CASA and state law.
The resulting total allocated by the City for the CASA reforms is $35,851,000.
The link to the 2020-2021 budget is here:
2021-2022 PROPOSED APD Budget
On April 1, 2021, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and the Keller administration released the 2021-2022 Proposed Operating Budget for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2021 and that will end June 31, 2022. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) continues to be the largest budget department in the city. APD’s proposed budget of $227,696,000 is upwards of 31% of total general fund spending of $711,500,000. APD’s budget will be increased by 23.9% or $43.1 million above the 2021 fiscal budget which was $213 million. The proposed budget continues the funding for the CASA reforms and then some.
As has been the case for all past budgets submitted by the Keller Administration, public safety continues to be the number one priority of the proposed 2022 city budget with significant funding and positions being added for the CASA reforms. The following are new allocations related to the CASA:
$800,000 for the Department of Justice Independent Federal Monitor required under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement that is still pending after 6 years.
$400,000 for the Use of Force Review contract. Presumably this is the funding for the External Force Investigation Team (EFIT) agreed to by the city.
$986,000 thousand for electronic control weapons (TAZER weapons).
Funding for the following new positions are included in the proposed budget:
One senior advisor to the Mayor and CAO and one internal investigations manager were created relating to the CASA reforms.
One Superintendent of Police reform position created to provide guidance in reshaping the training, internal affairs and compliance with the Department of Justice and the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) reforms.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Federal Monitors comments that the hiring of an outside chief would be costly is very disingenuous on his part as he tries to show sincerity that he is concerned about costs to the city and being able to afford a qualified individual to be APD Chief. Since 2014, the Federal Court Appointed Monitor has been paid at least $7.5 million for the work of 9 auditing professionals. The monitors contract has been extended and his firm is currently being paid $1.5 million a year. Further the city is spending $35 million a year on the reform process.
Hiring a highly qualified and skillful police chief with crisis management credentials should have been done from the get go. It could have been done with the help of Ginger, but all he has ever said is “it’s not my job.” Now the City is paying a Chief’s Salary of $183,000 a year and paying a $150,000 salary to an “Interim” Superintendent of Police Reform who has no actual experience with Federal Consent Decrees for a total of $333,000 to do a job which is traditionally and normally done by one Chief, not only here in Albuquerque, but by police departments all over the country. It is more likely than not that Mayor Tim Keller could have found a highly competent and effective police chief and have paid that person the amount he is paying both Medina and Stanly combined, but Keller would have had to admit that his hiring of both Geier and Medina were two major mistakes that could have been avoided had he kept his word and had done a national search both times instead of the sham he allowed.
The Federal Monitor’s comments that he recommended to the Keller Administration that APD needed an “outsider” as Chief is truly astounding because it was ostensibly totally ignored by Mayor Tim Keller and his Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. APD Chief Harold Medina has been in charge of APD since September 10, 2020, first as the Interim APD Chief for six months while a national search was conducted. It was on March 8, 2021, Keller announce that he appointed Harold Medina as the new APD Chief of Police, so by the time of the status conference, Medina had been in charge of APD over 7 months.
Medina no doubt has interacted with the Federal Monitor during the seven-month time, yet the Federal Monitor had absolutely nothing to say about Medina’s job performance. This is in very sharp contrast to the positive remarks made one time about former APD Chief Michael Geier when he was first appointed APD Chief.
The Monitor’s recommendation that an outsider be appointed Chief cannot and should not be down played in the least given the fact that Mayor Keller proclaimed twice that he conducted a national search only to settle on Chiefs Geier and Medina. Both Chiefs had been with APD before for decades, retired and came back to be appointed Chief. Many APD reform advocates felt the national searches Keller order were a sham where Keller first appointed who he wanted to be permanent Chief as Interim Chief, announced a national search, interviewed applicants to placate the public and then announced as Chief who he wanted to appoint in the first place.
APD Chief Harold Medina represents the total opposite of what the city needs in a police chief. It is very critical to have a police chief with experience with reducing use of force, not one who has used deadly force. A chief who has knowledge of crisis management, not one who causes a crisis. A Chief who understands the importance of protecting civil rights, not one who has violated civil rights, and a Chief able to tackle the issue of a police department interacting with the mentally ill, not one who has been involved with the killing of two mentally ill people. The fatal shootings Medina was involved with show he possesses none of the desired traits.
Truth is, Medina is part of the problem with APD that brought the DOJ here in the first place. Medina had no business being interim Chief let alone being made permanent. Medina helped create, did not stop and he participated the “culture of aggression” and the use of deadly force that resulted in a DOJ investigation.
As Mayor Keller continues to fail to implement the DOJ reforms, he will regret his refusal to follow recommendations made by the Federal Monitor and hiring yet another APD Chief that is part of the problem and not the solution.