On November 12, 2014, the city of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) after the DOJ investigation found a “culture of aggression” within APD and the use of excessive force and deadly force. The settlement mandates 271 APD reforms. The Postscript to this article lists in detail what has been implemented of the reforms over the last 7 years.
On Sunday, September 12 , in two front-page stories in the Albuquerque Journal, APD Chief Harold Medina and the Albuquerque Police Officers Union expressed strong objections and criticisms against the shortages of APD sworn officers, low morale and the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandated reforms. Not surprising on September 19, the Journal Editor’s followed up with and editorial entitled “DOJ REFORM PROCESS READY FOR A DOEOVER”; Albuquerque Needs constitutional policing and more officers on the streets.”
The titles and links to both of the Albuquerque Journal articles are here:
“APD’s thin blue line stretched thinner”
BY: COLLEEN HEILD AND ELISE KAPLAN / JOURNAL STAFF WRITERS
“APD officers leaving force cite DOJ settlement”
BY COLLEEN HEILD / JOURNAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
The link to the Journal editorial entitled “DOJ REFORM PROCESS READY FOR A DOEOVER”; Albuquerque Needs constitutional policing and more officers on the streets is here:
NEWS STORY HIGHLIGHT
The highlights of the data reported by the Journal in its stories can be summarized as follows:
The city budget authorizes up to 1,140 sworn officers. APD Police Chief Harold Medina says the needs 1,200 sworn. As of late July, APD sworn police numbered 939, leaving about 200 positions vacant. Forty-eight cadets are expected to join the ranks by the end of October. The new cadet class will bring the number of vacancies down to 152 vacancies of sworn police.
Excluding supervisors, 404 patrol officers are working the streets in uniform, which is referred to as “field services”. The 404 patrol officers consist of 369 patrol officers and 35 problem response team officers. The 404 is 74 fewer patrol officers than in May 2016. according to an APD staffing plan. The percentage of patrol officers on the streets is less than half of the force, compared with 57% five years ago in 2016.
During the first 8 months of this year, 101 officers have left APD. That compares with 82 departures in 2020 and 58 officers leaving in 2019.
Response times in getting officers to the most life-threatening 911 calls increased over last year. A Priority One call is taking nearly an average of 12 minutes for police to arrive on the scene, which is nearly two minutes longer than in 2020.
The September 20 editorial states in pertinent part to this blog article:
“The police union says too many officers face discipline for minor infractions. Medina says too many are tied up for hours on investigations for even minor use of force. He said a major reason cited in exit interviews by officers who leave before retirement is they are “very fearful of the DOJ and the discipline that has come down through the DOJ process.”
Officers who could be on patrol or working property crimes are assigned to internal affairs. Despite bonuses and other efforts, APD is at least 200 officers short of its budgeted level of 1,140. APD had 369 patrol officers in July – down 74 from 2016.
The argument Medina and Keller are making now boils down to this: Seven years and more than $26 million into the DOJ monitoring process, we have made significant progress and need to modify the oversight in a way that both guards against the kinds of abuses outlined above and lets us put enough officers on the street to respond to crime and empower them to discourage criminal activity.”
JOURNAL’S FAILURE TO REPORT
Both Journal articles and the editorial completely fail to provide any information on the extent of interference and tactics used by the police union to disrupt and impede the implementation of the DOJ reforms mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement. Absent is any reporting on the recent steps taken by APD to change the disciplinary process of sworn police that are causing low morale nor improvements to the use of force investigation.
In the Journal article “APD’s thin blue line stretched thinner” Chief Medina said that he is contending with officer vacancies throughout the department and that it’s not as easy as just adding more officers to patrol. Medina said:
“The field is short. I wish I had more people for investigations, but we don’t have them. … We still don’t have a property crimes division [in terms of staffing] like we had in 2012. …”
Reacting to officers leaving the department midway through their careers, Medina had this to say:
“We literally had one officer who left to be a security consultant. … I was shocked. He had eight or 10 years in, and [I said] ‘You’re giving all that up?’ He said, ‘Yeah, my family doesn’t want me in law enforcement anymore.’ ”
Medina was also critical of the criminal justice system, the so called “revolving door”, of releasing criminals and mandated police use of force investigations under the consent decree. Medina said:
“What also hurts us, is have you ever thought about the fact that we arrest people over and over, like auto theft. Those cases take a half or whole shift to process the case. Imagine if we had a criminal justice system where we arrested somebody once, maybe even twice and they stayed incarcerated? … So we’re not only losing officer time by having to investigate something a subsequent time [but] we’re also losing officer time through use-of-force investigations related to that hardened criminal we have to use force on.”
In the Journal article “APD officers leaving force cite DOJ settlement”, Medina said that exit interviews with APD officers who leave before they reach retirement show a primary reason for their departures is that:
“They’re very fearful of the DOJ and the discipline that has come down through the DOJ process. … [discipline concerns were] valid for a period of time because discipline was really high. … I didn’t agree with how [the new disciplinary policy] was rolled out [when the disciplinary policy was revised in July.]
REVISING APD DISCIPLINARTY SYSTEM REVISED
In one article, Medina noted that APD adjusted the way it disciplines officers for minor infractions that distinguishes misconduct from mistakes. The Journal failed to report the extent the disciplinary process has been changed.
On September 2, 2021, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Compliance and Oversight Division filed its “14th Progress and Status Summary Report”. The report is APD’s version on the progress made in the 3 compliance levels of the settlement. The 14th Progress report covers the period February 1 to July 31, 2021.
SOP 3-46 is a CASA-related policy that APD recognizes as having a significant impact on personnel, establishing requirements for progressive discipline and the use of abeyance as recommended. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 3-46 Discipline System was revised and published in July 2021. On multiple occasions, APD worked with both the Independent Monitoring Team and DOJ in this policy’s revision, accepting feedback and making the necessary changes to develop a stronger policy.
According to APD’s report, it has worked diligently on an early intervention system since 2018 and believes the department has come a long way in the development of an in-house system while APD continues with an outside vendor to tailor an early intervention system to meet the department’s needs and requirements. The “Pareto Principle Method”, or 80/20 Rule, which means that 80% of successes or failures are caused by the actions of 20% of employees.
In February 2021 the method was approved by the monitoring team as the statistical application that will be used to measure both acceptable and unacceptable behaviors from officers as outlined in the CASA. The Performance Evaluation and Management System (PEMS) training plan was approved by the Independent Monitoring Team and the DOJ. Training began in August 2021, and is scheduled to be completed in December 2021.
APD USE OF FORCE INVESTIGATIONS
In one article, Medina said the settlement agreement is impacting the amount of time officers can spend fighting crime on the streets and said it requires time-consuming use-of-force investigative processes and staffing for Internal Affairs force investigations. Medina noted that even a show of force, such as an officer pulling out a Taser to try to get a suspect to comply, triggers nearly as lengthy an internal investigation even if the Taser is never fired. Medina put it this way:
“I think the community would be very upset to know [that relatively minor use of force incidents such as forcing a suspect’s hand behind his back can trigger an investigation] … And just imagine, we just lost that officer, the backup officer and a supervisor for five hours while they do a level one force investigation. … It kills me that I had to assign six more individuals to [use of] force investigations but the settlement agreement said we had to.”
A major problem area identified by the monitor in the 13th monitor’s report was failed progress in Use of Force Investigations. According to APD, it has made significant progress with Use of Force investigations. APD reported that In April 2021, it continued to improve the process of tracking policy violations relating to use of force investigations. To ensure use of force reviews are consistently factored into supervisor’s performance evaluations, APD included an additional evaluation process. Based on available data, the process includes the verification of employee performance documents reviews by commanders to confirm any violations related to Use of Force standard operating procedures.
Review and investigation by department personnel are documented within officer performance evaluations. This is needed to ensure the quality of supervisory work is evaluated and documented. APD expressed to the Court and the Independent Monitoring Team the need to clarify the use of progressive discipline and abeyance. Because of that concern, APD took major steps clarify the use of progressive discipline during the 14th monitoring period.
RAW DATA PUBLISHED IN 3 MAJOR AREAS DEFECTIVE
The Journal article “APD’s thin blue line stretched thinner” provides data in 3 major areas without reporting the historical background and the astronomical cost to the city. Following is a review of those statistics, the background, and the accuracy of what the Journal reported:
1. NUMBER OF ALBQUERQUE POLICE OFFICERS BY FISCAL YEAR:
It was in 2016 under Republican Mayor Richard Berry that APD hit an all-time low of 821 sworn police. In 2014, and in response to the dramatic decline, the Republican Berry Administration lobbied the New Mexico legislature to change the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) to allow APD police to retire and then to return to work and collect both their pensions and new salaries, which is referred to as “double dipping”. Berry’s efforts failed and the APD Academy continued to struggle in its recruiting and hiring of new sworn police.
On September 12, the Albuquerque Journal reported the following number of Albuquerque police officers by fiscal year without reporting pay.
2021: 939 (As of July 30)
Source: Fiscal Year 2022 Approved City Budget
The number of police officers in 2021 has declined even further. As of September 18, 2021, a review of APD payroll reflected only 913 sworn officers, from chief to patrol officer’s 2nd class. APD has lost 85 officers since April.
APD POLICE PAY RATES
Tim Keller was sworn in as Mayor on December 1, 2017. Within 5 months the Keller Administration negotiated a two-year police union contract giving lucrative hourly pay increases and large police longevity bonuses. The pay rates negotiated in 2018 remain in place today and the highest police pay in the city’s history. The pay rates are as follows:
Starting pay for an APD Police Officer immediately out of the APD academy is $29 an hour or $60,320 yearly.
Police officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour or $62,400 yearly.
Senior Police Officers with 15 years or more experience are paid $31.50 an hour or $65,520 yearly.
The hourly pay rate for APD Sergeants is $35 an hour, or $72,800 yearly.
The hourly pay rate for APD Lieutenants is $40.00 an hour or $83,200 yearly.
LONGEVITY PAY ADDED TO BASE PAY
In addition to the base pay rates, APD police officers are also paid longevity bonus pay added to their pay at the end of the year as follows:
For 5 years of experience: $100 are paid bi-weekly, or $2,600 yearly
For 6 years of experience: $125 are paid bi-weekly, or $3,250 yearly
For 7 to 9 years of experience: $225 are paid bi-weekly, or $5,800 yearly
For 10 to 12 years of experience: $300 are paid bi-weekly, or $7,800 yearly
For 13 to 15 years o experience: $350 are paid bi-weekly, or $9,100 yearly
For 16 to 17 years or more: $450 are paid bi-weekly, or $11,700 yearly
For 18 or more years of experience: $600 are paid bi-weekly, 15,600 yearly
In 2018, APD under the leadership of former Chief Michael began an aggressive recruitment of “lateral hires” of experienced officers from across New Mexico with upwards of 75 officers hired, with a lion’s share coming from Rio Rancho where Geier had retired. Most, if not all, of those lateral hires have since retired having boosted their high 3 years for retirement purposes. Mayor Keller referred to the recruitment plan as “poaching.”
Recruitment of new officers has been difficult to the point that APD is now offering hiring bonuses worth thousands of dollars. According to an August 2 KOAT TV news report, the bonuses are:
$15,000 for lateral police officers (officers from other departments)
$5,000 for cadets or new recruits
$1,500 for police service aides
2019 AND 2020 LISTS OF 250 HIGHEST PAID CITY HALL WAGE EARNERS INCLUDES 160 SWORN POLICE EACH YEAR
At the beginning of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners for the previous year. The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year.
In 2019, there were 70 APD patrol officers in the list of 250 top paid employees earning pay ranging from $108,167 to $188,844. There were 32 APD lieutenants and 32 APD sergeants in the list of 250 top paid employees earning pay ranging from $108,031 to $164,722 because of overtime.
In 2020, there were 69 patrol officers paid between $110,680 to $176,709, 28 APD Lieutenants and 32 APD Sergeants who were paid between $110,698 to $199,001 in the list of the 250 top paid city hall employees paid between.
APD APPROVED BUDGET AND PERSONNEL NUMBERS
The city employs upwards of 6,400 full time employees to provide the essential services city wide. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is the largest budget department in the city out of 27 departments. The 2021-2022 APD Budget provides funding for 1,100 sworn positions and 592 civilian support positions for a total of 1,692 full-time positions or approximately one fourth of the city’s total of 6,400 employees. It also includes funding for new positions, including 11 investigators to support internal affairs and the department’s reform obligations under the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement.
On May 17, the Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously to approve the 2021-2022 APD budget of over $227 million city budget. Last year’s budget also had funding for 1,100 officers, but APD has failed over the last 7 years to reach budgeted staffing levels.
A major failure identified by the Federal Monitor was that APD’s Internal Affairs (IA) was not properly investigating serious use of force instances by APD police officers. On February 26, 2021 a stipulated order creating the new EFIT unit was entered into by the parties. The EFIT is an additional layer of review of uses of force cases by APD sworn. 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.
Notwithstanding the approved funding for 1,100 sworn police the number of police officers patrolling the streets of Albuquerque is dangerously low. As of July 24, 2021, APD has 940 sworn police according to city personnel records, but only 369 are actually patrolling the streets of the city. The 369 filed service officers are divided into 6 area commands and 3 separate shifts.
According to an August 2 KOAT TV news report, APD patrol staffing is as follows:
369 patrol officers, for six area commands and 3 shifts
59 patrol sergeants
18 – 22 bike officers
2. APD RETIREMENTS, RESIGNATIONS AND TERMINATIONS
The Journal reported APD retirements, resignations and terminations as follows:
2021: 101 (As of August 1)
SOURCE: APD Human Resources.
Over the last 20 years, APD’s attrition has been a consistent 60 police officers a year. That includes terminations, transfers and police officers who have decided they do not want to be a police officer anymore. Recruitment of new officers has been difficult to the point that APD is now offering “hiring bonuses” worth thousands of dollars as reported above, including $15,000 for lateral hires and $5,000 for new recruits.
3. APD RESPONSE TIMES
According to the Albuquerque Journal Albuquerque September 12 article “APD’s thin blue line stretched thinner”, response times for 911 priority 1 and 2 calls, the most serious, were:
2018: 12 minutes, 37 seconds
2019: 10 minutes, 30 seconds
2020: 10 minutes, 1 second
2021: 11 minutes, 50 seconds
The response times were provided to the Journal by APD.
The response times reported by the Albuquerque Journal are contrary to investigation reports by KOAT- TV 7 and KOB TV 4 reports.
A February 20th KOAT TV Target 7 investigation into APD’s response times revealed an alarming level of time it takes APD to respond to 911 emergency calls. The longer the time it takes for APD to respond to priority 1 and 2 calls increases the likelihood of physical injury and even death.
It was reported that it takes APD 23 minutes longer to get to an emergency call than it did 8 years ago. According to the report, there has been an astonishing 93% increase since 2011 with response times getting worse every year since. In 2011, the average response time to all calls, whether it was a life-or-death emergency or a minor traffic crash was 25 minutes. In 2019, that time period spiked to 48 minutes in the average response time.
The link to the full KOAT TV Target 7 report is here:
On August 11, 2021, KOB 4 did a report on APD response times. KOB 4 requested the response times from APD management for Priority 1 calls over the last few years. Priority 1 calls are calls made to 911 and include shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, sexual and aggravated assaults, domestic violence with weapons involved and home invasions. According to the data reviewed the time it takes a dispatch APD officer to get to a crime scene stayed relatively consistent between January 2018 to May 2021.
The response time data obtained by KOB 4 revealed some drastic differences in recent years. In 2018, clearing a crime scene ranged from an hour to 1 hour and 12 minutes. Fast forward to 2021 and APD is averaging more than 2 hours to write reports, gather evidence and interview witnesses, or a full 1 hour longer than three years ago.
The link to the full KOB 4 report is here:
NEW 911 PRIORITY CALL DISPATCH SYSTEM
For decades APD had a 3 priority 911 dispatch system. On March 7, 2019, APD announced a major change in the way it was dispatching police officers to 911 calls and expanded priority the list from 3 to 5 categories. Call priorities on the scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the highest or most important type of call. A major goal of the 5-priority call system is to determine what calls do and do not require a police officer. The goal was to reduce the number of 911emergency calls for service responded to by APD sworn police. The addition of 2 new priority call types did in fact result in the desired just goal of reducing the number of sworn dispatch but also resulted in fewer Felony, Misdemeanor and DWI arrests.
For the Fiscal Years of F/Y 14 to F/Y 20 the total number of 911 calls for service were:
FY/14 # of Calls for service: 518,553
FY/15 # of Calls for service: 518,751
FY/16 # of Calls for service: 547,854
FY/17 # of Calls for service: 564,610
FY/18 # of Calls for service: 580,303
FY/19 # of Calls for service: 543,574
FY/20 # of Calls for service: 524,286
The sure volume of calls for service are staggering and always cited by APD upper command, but are easily misinterpreted. Without clarification, the raw statistics imply that sworn police were sent to every single call or that arrests were made. The numbers must be tempered with the actual number of dispatches of police, the number of sworn and that in turn ultimately result in arrests in 3 major categories of felony, misdemeanor and DWI.
For the Fiscal Years of F/Y 14 to F/Y 20 the total number of calls for service compared to arrests in each of the 3 major categories and the sworn police who were employed in all capacities and positions are as follows:
FY/14 # of Calls for service: 518,553
FY/14: Arrests: Felony 9,507, Misdemeanor 27,127, DWI 2,704,
FY/14: Total Sworn: 913
FY/15 # of Calls for service: 518,751
FY/15 Arrests: Felony 9,049, Misdemeanor 22,639, DWI 2,213,
FY/15 Total Sworn: 879
FY/16 # of Calls for service: 547,854
FY/16 Arrests: Felony 8,744, Misdemeanor 19,857, DWI 1,720
FY/16 Total Sworn: 833
FY/17 # of Calls for service: 564,610
FY/17 Arrests: Felony 9,527, Misdemeanor 18,562, DWI 1,338,
FY/19 Total Sworn: 870
FY/18 # of Calls for service: 580,303
FY/18 Arrests: Felony 11,257, Misdemeanor 19,923, DWI 1,403,
FY/18 Total Sworn: 941
FY/19 # of Calls for service: 543,574)
FY/19 Arrests: Felony 10,945, Misdemeanor 19,440, DWI 1,788,
FY/19Total Sworn: 924
FY/20 # of Calls for service: 524,286
FY/20 Arrests: Felony 6,621, Misdemeanor 16,520, DWI 1,230
FY/20 Total Sworn: 1,004
The links to the approved city budgets from 2007 to 2022 that contain the statistics can be found here:
There was a dramatic decline in the number arrests in 2019 to 2020, the same time when the new priority calls were added. APD felony arrests went down from 2019 to 2020 by 39.51% going down from 10,945 to 6,621. Misdemeanor arrests went down by 15% going down from 19,440 to 16,520. DWI arrests went down from 1,788 in 2019 to 1,230 in 2020, down 26%. The total number of all arrests went down from 32,173 in 2019 to 24,371 in 2020 or by 25%. In 2019 APD had 924 full time police. In 2020, APD had 1,004 sworn police or 80 more sworn in 2020 than in 2019, yet arrests went down during the first year of the pandemic and response times went up.
SEPTEMBER 6 TRYNA VERBECK PRESS CONFERENCE
On September 6, Tryna Verbeck, the wife of one of the 4 APD officers recently shot pursuing a suspect in an armed robbery, held a press conference and in a very emotional and angry statement called out Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina as being “equally accountable” for her husband’s shooting.
In response to the Tryna Verbeck Chief Medina issued a very lengthy, convoluted statement. Following are the most pertinent Medina remarks relevant to this blog article:
“There is no doubt that morale among officers was impacted by several issues and events over the past year-and-a-half – from the anti-police protests in 2020, to the challenges of the pandemic and the struggles resulting from mandates by the DOJ settlement. As a result, we have lost officers to retirement or decisions to leave the profession. Those losses compounded the problem of not being fully staffed, even though we have hired hundreds of new officers.
I expressed many of those concerns to the DOJ and the monitors. The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction where officers do not feel supported, or that they can do their jobs effectively and safely in all situations. At the same time, we can’t simply move every officer to patrol the streets, as some have suggested. I don’t have the authority to defy a court order. But we have to be honest about the reality we face. My responsibility is to the people of Albuquerque who want us to fight crime while protecting the rights of all individuals.
… . “
The link to quoted source material is here:
In response Tryna Verbeck, Mayor Keller released the following statement:
“APD has been under intense pressure to change as a result of the DOJ settlement agreement, the time pressures from ever-changing court rules, and the shortage of officers that persists despite all of our hiring. Officers feel that pressure every day. We started the Metro Crime Initiative to pull everyone together to fix these system-wide problems. We have also expressed our concerns to the DOJ, the court monitors and the federal delegation because we can’t continue to improve if officers do not feel supported. …”
SEVEN YEARS OF POLICE UNION OBSTRUCTION
During the past 7 years Shaun Willoughby and his police union members have done everything they could to undercut the police reforms brought on by the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that found a “culture of aggression” and repeated use of deadly force and excessive use of force.
The Federal Court Appointed Monitor has labeled the union interference with the reforms as the “County Casa Effect”. The Federal monitor has defined the Counter Casa Effect as a group of “high-ranking APD officers” who are union members and hold the ranks sergeants and lieutenants and who are thwarting the settlement reform efforts.
In his 10th report Federal Monitor Ginger referred to the group as the “Counter-CASA effect” and stated:
“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”.
“Some members of APD … resist actively APD’s reform efforts, including using deliberate counter-CASA processes. For example, … Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) disciplinary timelines, appear at times to be manipulated by supervisory, management and command levels at the area commands, letting known violations lie dormant until timelines [mandated by the union contract] for discipline cannot be met.”
In his 12th Monitor’s Report, Dr. Ginger states:
… “[There] are strong under currents of Counter-CASA effects in some critical units on APD’s critical path related to CASA compliance. These include supervision at the field level; mid-level command in both operational and administrative functions, [including] patrol operations, internal affairs practices, disciplinary practices, training, and force review). Supervision, [the] sergeants and lieutenants, and mid-level command, [the commanders] remain one of the most critical weak links in APD’s compliance efforts.
… Many of the instances of non-compliance seen in the field are a matter of “will not,” instead of “cannot”! The Monitor … report[s] … he see actions that transcend innocent errors and instead speak to issues of cultural norms yet to be addressed and changed by APD leadership.”
… Supervision, which includes Lieutenants and Sergeants in the union, need to leave behind its dark traits of myopia, passive resistance, and outright support for, and implementation of, counter-CASA processes.”
POLICE UNION PUBLIC RELATONS CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT REFORMS
On April 27, 2021, it was widely reported that the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) launched a $70,000 political ad campaign to discredit the Department of Justice (DOJ) mandated reforms saying the police reforms are preventing police officers from doing their jobs and combating crime.
The Police Union political ad campaign consisted of billboards around the city and testimonials on TV, radio and social media from former Albuquerque Police Department officers. The public relations campaign is urging the public to tell city leaders that crime matters more than the Police reforms mandated by the settlement.
The public relations campaign includes providing an email template for people to use and contact civic leaders. The template says APD has made progress with the reforms and says we are “tired of living in a city filled with murder, theft and violence. … I’m urging you to fight for this city, stand up to the DOJ, and help us save the city we love, before it’s too late. ”
APOA Police Union President Shaun Willoughby described the need for the public relations campaign this way:
“You can either have compliance with DOJ reforms or you can have lower crime. You can’t have both. We think it’s time that our city leaders hear from the public that crime matters more because it does. … They want to focus on the growing crime problem, instead of wasting millions of dollars on endless Department of Justice oversight. … This conversation of reform needs to come back to common sense. …
Right now, the City of Albuquerque capitulates to everything the DOJ wants and that might not necessarily be the right direction for the City of Albuquerque. … You don’t need enemies when you have friends like the city attorney. … We believe that our community deserves better from this police department. … We believe our community deserves better from this consent decree process.”
In a February 11 Target 7 news report Shaun Willoughby, President of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said:
“The whole [reform effort] system is set up to fail and the taxpayers and the people that live in this community like me and my family are the ones that are taking the brunt of [violent crime]. … Really look at this process. … It is absolutely out of control. … The entire department and the processes within it are out of control. Your officers are running out the door. Really look at every single state or agency that’s been involved in this process. … What is happening? Did it bring harmony and trust with the community? I don’t think so.”
On Monday, September 13, when US Attorney General Merrick Garland unveiled new rules governing federal monitors responsible for overseeing police reforms and implementation of court approved settlement reform measures, Shaun Willoughby, the President of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association had this to say:
“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.”
Links to news sources quotes are here:
On Friday, August 20, Police Union President Shaun Willoughby was quoted as saying:
“It’s officers that are hesitating to do their job because they don’t want to get in trouble … It’s the brazen acts of criminals that know that Albuquerque police officers are handcuffed … We have stepped away and de-policed this city. … .
The link to the quoted news source material is here:
In an interview with KOB 4, Police Union President Shaun Willoughby said increases in deadly situations involving police is frustrating and angers his union membership. He also increased his false political rhetoric laying blame for the violent crime in the city and said:
“We’ve been telling this community that this was going to happen. … I believe that the violent crime and the uptick of violent crime is directly related to this police department being de-policed and having policies where they are not able to do their job. … We have de-policed the city of Albuquerque to the extent where officers carry around a little card with a list of misdemeanors that they can’t even arrest people on.”
NEW RULES GOVERNING FEDERAL MONITORS
On Monday, September 13, during an online speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, 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 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 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 Keller Administration made it known it has been meeting with the DOJ over the past few months and is 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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
All you get from Mayor Keller, APD Chief Medina and Police Union President Shaun Willoughby is perpetual harping and complaining about how shorthanded APD is, how morale is at an all-time low and how the DOJ consent decree is the problem. The complaints are perpetual after the City Council gives APD $227 million dollar budget, virtually every cent of the millions that they have asked for, yet APD has upwards of 200 sworn police vacancies. The lions share of the $227 million dollar budget goes to pay APD sworn police making them some of the best paid in the country with one of the most lucrative retirements in the country.
What makes the Albuquerque Journal articles misleading is that both articles fail to disclose the extent of the financial resources that have been dedicated to APD for the past 4 years. There was absolutely no acknowledgement nor admission in the Journal articles by Mayor Keller, Chief Medina nor the Police Union that many of the problems complained about the Department of Justice reforms fall squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Keller, Keller’s appointed APD Chief Medina and his 3 Deputies and the Police Union leadership and their resistance to the DOJ reforms. It is their actions, failures to act, resistance and negligent personnel management that are the real causes of the problems they complain about, especially with the DOJ reforms. All of the complaints and problems have been going on for the past 7 years, before the pandemic and before the national movement of police scrutiny and accountability of police misconduct.
POLICE UNION HAS NEVER SAID WHAT DOJ REFORMS INTERFERING
The police union leadership have said in the past and 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. According to Police Union President Sean 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.
What the union has been doing for the last 7 years is disrupting the reform process. Instead of fighting the consent decree, the police union should have embraced the reforms from the get go and helped to implement them.
It’s likely what the police union feels what is interfering with its membership from doing their jobs includes the following mandated reforms:
1. The mandatory use of lapel cameras by APD.
2. APD police can no longer shoot at fleeing cars.
3. APD police can no longer use “choke holds” to subdue suspects.
4. APD police need to use less lethal force and not rely on the SWAT unit.
5. APD police must use de-escalating tactics.
6. All APD officers must be trained in crisis intervention.
7. APD management must now hold all subordinate police officers accountable for all levels of violations of standard operating procedures.
8. Sworn police do not like or oppose the Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC) program which trains officers to support peer intervention. The EPIC program has evolved into the Active Bystander for Law Enforcement (ABLE) project, which trains officers to support peer intervention. ABLE aims to create a police culture in which officers routinely intervene to prevent misconduct, avoid police mistakes, and promote officer health and wellness. Old guard police officers likely view the ABLE system as a “snitch” program where officers turn on fellow officers or partners.
9. Subordinate police officers believe that many standard operating procedures (SOPs should not be enforced as being to petty or serving no useful function. Examples would be SOPs on grooming restrictions, prohibition against eating or smoking in assigned units.
10. The mandatory “paper work” associated with any degree of use of force is too cumbersome.
11. APD Police officers are required to intervene when they witness and are concerned about other officers use of force.
12. Mandatory notification to superiors for investigation by police officers who witness another officer’s “excessive use of force” or violations of CASA reforms.
The Police Union and critics of the Federal Monitor have said that the monitor is “nitpicking” when the monitor points out specific incidents of APD management’s failure to enforce standard operating procedure. The policies are APD’s policies, not the monitors. Answering the charge of “nitpicking”, why bother having the policies if officers are not going to follow them and management refuses to enforce them.
A FAILURE TO ARREST OR REFUSAL TO ARREST
Based on the statistics for the budget years of 2019 and 2020, a very strong argument can be made that crime is up because APD is not doing its job of arresting people. This point is painfully clear in the statistics that arrests for both felony and misdemeanor offenses are down dramatically. APD statistics for the budget years of 2019 and 2020 reflect the field officers, who are all union membership, are simply not arresting people.
APD CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA
APD Chief Harold Medina told Tryna Verbeck in part in response to her press conference:
“The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction where officers do not feel supported, or that they can do their jobs effectively and safely in all situations. At the same time, we can’t simply move every officer to patrol the streets, as some have suggested. I don’t have the authority to defy a court order.”
Absolutely no one is asking Chief Medina to defy a court order. To be blunt, it is his department after he squeezed out former Chief Michael Geier. Medina now has complete management and control over APD. The control includes the department’s $227 million dollar budget, all of its resources and personnel. Medina has the power to reorganize the department and make appropriate changes and assignment of personnel as he sees fit. Even after being fully budgeted for 1,100 sworn police for the last 4 years, APD has failed to recruit, train and hire.
Instead of exercising authority and managing the department, both Keller and Medina prefer to lay blame on the lack of personnel and the CASA reforms. Chief Medina has been part of APD’s upper command staff, including being the Deputy Chief of Field Service dealing with personnel assigned to the field since the day Keller was sworn in as Mayor on December 1, 2017. For the past 4 years, Medina knew what was wrong with the staffing and assignment levels and yet did nothing other than to undermine former Chief Michael Geier in order to replace him.
NEW RULES GOVERNING FEDERAL MONITORS
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 to present evidence of what is going on within APD and ask for a dismissal of the case or a significant reduction in the monitoring given what has been implemented.
The consent decree was negotiated to be fully implemented during a 4-year period and then after two years of compliance dismissed. Over 7 years have now elapse and APD is still struggling to implement the all 271 mandated reforms agreed to by the City and APD in 2014.
CASA REFORMS IMPLEMENTED
On November 14, 2020, it will be 6 full years that have expired since the city entered into the CASA with the DOJ. Based on a review of the Federal Monitor’s reports and news reports, the City and APD have completed the following 15 mandated reforms under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement:
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 and 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 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. Under the terms and conditions of the CASA, once APD achieves a 95% compliance rate in 3 compliance areas, and maintains compliance for 2 years, the case can be dismissed. For the purposes of the APD monitoring process, “compliance” consists of three levels: primary, secondary, and operational compliance levels. In the 11th audit report that covered the time period of August 1, 2019 and ended in January 31, 2020, the federal monitor found APD was 100% in primary compliance, no change from 10th report, a 93% in secondary compliance, a change of 14.8% from the 10th report, and 66% in operational compliance, a change of 3%.
Links to related blog articles are here:
APD Police Union Spends $70,000 To Discredit Federal Court Order After Impeding And Resisting APD Reforms For 6 Years; Tactic Likely Grounds For Contempt Of Court By A Party For Interfering With Court Order