On Monday, September 13, during an online speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, and former US Court of Appeals Judge, unveiled new rules governing federal monitors responsible for overseeing police reforms and implementation of court approved settlement reform measures. The new rules include setting limits on federal court appointed monitor’s tenure, budgets for their services and requiring them to undergo more training.
5 PRINCIPALS, 19 ACTIONS
Since Garland was appointed Attorney General, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has undertaken “pattern or practice” investigations of police departments in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix. It was in 2013 that such an investigation occurred with the Albuquerque Police Department. The DOJ found that APD engaged in a pattern of “excessive use of force” and “deadly force” and a “culture of aggression”. The DOJ investigation of APD resulted in a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) entered into by the City and the DOJ mandating 271 police reforms.
The biggest and most pervasive complaints involving the settlement agreements are that they go on, and on for on years, they harm police morale and frustrate community residents. Monitoring teams, such as what Albuquerque has, are usually composed of former police officials, lawyers, academics and police-reform consultants. The monitoring teams typically bill local taxpayers between $1 million and $2 million per year. In Albuquerque, Federal Court Appointed Monitor James Ginger has been paid upwards of $8 million over the last 7 years and his team has prepared 13 Independent Monitor’s Report filed with the federal court. Each time a report is release, the Federal Court has an all day briefing in the case.
The Department of Justice said in a press release:
“The department has found that – while consent decrees and monitors are important tools to increase transparency and accountability – the department can and should do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy. The Associate Attorney General [Vanita Gupta] has recommended – and I have accepted – a set of 19 actions that the department will take to address those concerns.”
Associate Attorney General Gupta for his part had this to say:
“Consent decrees have proven to be vital tools in upholding the rule of law and promoting transformational change in the state and local governmental entities where they are used. … The department must do everything it can to guarantee that they remain so by working to ensure that the monitors who help implement these decrees do so efficiently, consistently and with meaningful input and participation from the communities they serve.”
The 19 actions are outlined in the memo released released by the DOJ. There are major 5 principals outlined in Gupta’s memo that will require future monitorships of state and local governmental to meet. Those principals are:
1. Monitorships should be designed to minimize cost to jurisdictions and avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
2. Monitors must be accountable to the court, the parties and the public.
3. Monitors should assess compliance consistently across jurisdictions.
4. Sustained, meaningful engagement with the community is critical to the success of the monitors.
5. Monitoring must be structured to efficiently move jurisdictions into compliance.
The steps the department will take going forward in all monitor agreements to ensure that these principles are outlined as follows:
1. Budget Caps: Future consent decrees will include an annual cap on monitors’ fees to increase transparency and help contain costs.
2. No Double Dipping: To dispel any perception that monitoring is a cottage industry, lead monitors in future consent decrees will no longer be able to serve on more than one monitoring team at a time. Editor’s Note: The APD Federal Monitor has served in the past as a consent decree monitor in other cities, but only one at a time.
3. Monitors Should Prioritize Stakeholder Input: To ensure that monitors selected are able to understand of a variety of interests and perspectives of the stakeholders in the process, including impacted communities, law enforcement and victims of official misconduct.
4. Term Limits: To ensure that monitors are being held accountable, consent decrees will impose specific terms for monitors that can only be renewed after a process of judicial evaluation and reappointment.
5. Effective Practices Guide, Assessment Tools and Training Materials: To ensure that monitorships are being conducted consistently across jurisdictions, the department will convene a group of stakeholders to create a set of effective practices for monitors, training programs for new monitors and judges overseeing monitorships and assessment tools for monitors to use to evaluate jurisdictions.
6. Termination Hearing After No More than Five Years: To ensure that monitorships are designed to incentivize monitors and jurisdictions to move towards compliance as efficiently as possible, future consent decrees will require a hearing after five years so that jurisdictions can demonstrate the progress it has made, and if possible, to move for termination. To the extent that full compliance has not yet been reached by five years, the hearing will be used to solidify the plan for getting over the finish line in short order.
The changes will not automatically impact the city of Albuquerque’s court-mandated reform effort. Notwithstanding, Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement that his administration “will approach the U.S. District Court in New Mexico to ensure the same standards are applied to [the Albuquerque Police Department’s] settlement agreement.”
Links to quoted source material are here:
CITY AND APD REACT TO ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND’S ANNOUNCMENT
The changes announced by Attorney General Garland pertain immediately to any future consent decrees negotiated but will not automatically impact the city of Albuquerque’s Court Approved Settlement Agreement. Notwithstanding, APD and Albuquerque city officials praised the changes.
APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the Keller administration has been meeting with DOJ officials for months and has worked with the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Gallego said the Keller met with DOJ officials “to outline several concerns about [the] existing process used by the DOJ to monitor the Albuquerque Police Department. … For example, the Keller administration highlighted the exorbitant cost paid by Albuquerque taxpayers for the work of out-of-state monitors who oversee APD’s reform process.”
Mayor Tim Keller for his part had this to say in a statement:
“[We appreciated the Attorney General for listening to the city’s concerns and for] making changes to reflect the realities we’re facing. … “In this city, we want to make reforms that are actually meaningful to our local communities rather than out-of-state consultants. … I believe that Albuquerque has what it takes to do that while supporting our officers, tackling crime and making our city safer for people from all walks of life.”
APD Chief Harold Medina has said recently the Court Approved Settlement Agreement has interfered with his ability as Chief to put more resources toward fighting crime. In a statement, Medina said APD has made “tremendous progress” in changing the culture in the department and said:
“But the public also deserves a fully staffed police department that has the resources to focus on fighting crime. … The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction where officers do not feel supported. We need the local flexibility to ensure we can balance fighting crime while protecting the rights of all citizens.”
The link to quoted source material is here
APD POLICE UNION REACTION
Shaun Willoughby, the President of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association had this to say in an on-camera interview with Channel 4:
“They don’t come in here with policies that are considered best practice and a huge blank check book to train police officers … So this whole blue print called the DOJ consent decree and the monitoring process, it’s a joke.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The new rules and principals announced by Attorney General Garland for the federal monitoring of consent decrees are the first time the Department of Justice has taken action to deal with pervasive criticism that consent decrees go on and on indefinitely with no end in sight, cost way too much and have a major impact of local law enforcement. The fact that the Keller Administration has already taken steps and intends to ask the New Mexico Federal Court assigned the case to apply the principles to the City’s consent decree is a major development. It creates the opportunity for the city to move forward and ask for further relief from the court to modify the existing consent decree. The city should ask for a termination hearing and ask for a dismissal of the case or a significant reduction in the monitoring.
The City and APD for over 7 years have been struggling to implement the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and the 217 mandated reforms. Millions have been spent. Not at all surprising is Shaun Willoughby, the President of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, shoots off his big mouth about the consent decree, babbles on and on with his false characterization of the consent decree. Willoughby now disparages the new rules for federal monitoring of consent decrees calling the consent decree and the monitoring process “a joke”. The real joke is that the police union, its membership of sergeants and lieutenants and the union President say they are supportive of the consent decree reforms yet have done everything they could for the last 7 years to oppose and undermine the consent decree reforms.
Hope springs eternal that the day will come when Willoughby for just once will speak the truth when he gives interviews to the local news media and the media in turn will fulfill their responsibility and report the truth contrary to what Willoughby has to say.
The link to a related blog article is here: