It was on November 14, 2014 that the City of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the United State Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a stipulated Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) after the DOJ completed an 18th month investigation of APD. The DOJ found that APD had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force and that a “culture of aggression” existed within APD. The Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandates 271 police reforms, the appointment of a Federal Monitor and the filing of Independent Monitor’s reports (IMRs) on APD’s progress implementing the reforms.
On November 9, 2022, Federal Court Appointed Independent Monitor James Ginger filed his 16th Report on APD’s Compliance Levels with the settlement. The 16th reporting period covers the time period of February 1, 2022, through July 31, 2022. The link to review the entire 16th Federal Monitors report is here:
HEARING HELD ON 16TH FEDERAL MONITOR’S REPORT
On December 6, Federal District Court James Browning, who oversees the settlement, held an all-day remote hearing to review the report. The Federal Monitor reported that as of the end of the IMR-16 reporting period, APD’s compliance levels are as follows:
Primary Compliance: 100% (No change)
Secondary Compliance: 99% (No change)
Operational Compliance: 80%. (10% increase from 70%)
Under the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, once APD achieves a 95% compliance rate in the 3 identified compliance levels and maintains it for 2 consecutive years, the case can be dismissed. Originally, APD was to have come into compliance within 4 years and the case was to be dismissed in 2020.
During the December 6 hearing, Federal Monitor James Ginger reported that APD continues to make impressive gains in the compliance levels over the past year. This is a complete reversal of the downward trend found and reported in 3 previous monitor’s reports. It was also reported that the City, APD and the DOJ finally executed the stipulated order whereby the city will be allowed to self-monitor and self-assess upwards of 25% of the 271 mandated reforms of the CASA. It was also reported that the Internal Affairs Force Division (IAFD) is meeting the mandatory deadlines in its investigations, and that the most recent use of force report found uses of force have decreased by more than 30% over the past 2 years.
CIVILIAN POLICE OVERSIGHT AGENCY REPORTED IN TURMOIL
During the December 6 hearing it was revealed that the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) newly-appointed executive director Dierdre Ewing’ has resigned effective December 9. She was confirmed for the position by the City Council just 6 months ago to replace Interim Executive Director Diane McDermott who had replaced Ed Harness, the first CPOA Executive Director. The creation of the CPOA was a settlement mandated reform and its purpose is to oversee APD and to watch for police misconduct, including excessive force.
The CPOA has been in turmoil the past few years with the loss of Executive Directors and 5 board member resignations out of a board of 9. Dan Giaquinto, a member of the monitoring team, said the office had to act quickly to “reverse the downward trajectory” of civilian oversight in Albuquerque by fully staffing the agency and board. Giaquinto told Judge Browning:
“As APD marches towards compliance, CPOA must march in the same direction. … They really need to do it now.”
CPOA board chair Patricia French said the CPOA board is moving forward in a positive manner and said its members are committed to its mission. She reported that 7 of 9 board positions have been filled and she told Judge Browning this:
“During the short time that [Executive Director Dierdre Ewing has] been with us, I will say that she’s been responsive to the board. … She has helped us move forward in an effective and efficient manner in our serious use of force and officer involved cases.”
SPIKE IN APD OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS DOMINATES HEARING
Although it was reported during court hearing that APD is making gains in in implementing the reforms, it was also reported that there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before. In 2022, there have so far been 18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal. In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.
A review of shootings by APD police officers between 2018 and 2022 identified three common circumstances:
- When officers are attempting to apprehend violent suspects;
- When individuals are experiencing some kind of mental health episode;
- When people with little criminal history are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and make bad decisions.
Albuquerque Police Department released data that shows there have been 54 police shootings dating back to 2018. Of the cases reviewed, 85% involved people who were armed with a gun or a weapon that appeared to be a firearm. About 55% of the cases involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while only 2 cases in which intoxication did not play a role. Without toxicology tests, it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the remainder of the cases. Statewide, authorities said the number of shootings in which officers opened fire stands at 50 for the year.
Barron Jones, a member of APD Forward and a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said that more transparency is needed to better understand what, if anything, could be done to prevent shooting deaths at the hands of officers. Jones also said that recent cases underscore the need for a statewide use-of-force policy that includes clear, consistent protocols for deescalating interactions with the public “to avoid these kinds of tragic incidents.”
The link to the quoted news source article is here:
The last two years have also been two very violent years in the city. The number of homicides in the city have broken all time records. In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 115 homicides as of December 3, 2022.
The spike in APD police shooting includes the years when the DOJ found that APD had a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force with a finding of a culture of aggression. The increase in APD police officer shootings overshadowed the report on APD’s progress with the reforms and dominated the day long hearing.
Alexander Uballez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, said this about the shootings:
“[My job] will not be complete until there’s a substantial reduction in police shootings and fatalities.”
Paul Killebrew, the deputy chief of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, acknowledged the frustrations. He said that the DOJ wants to see how the city, APD, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, and the Force Review Board respond to the spike. Killebrew said this:
“The increase in officer involved shootings is unacceptable. … You see a spike in officer involved shootings and it feels like we’ve set back the clock by 10 years. … It’s clear from what we’ve heard today that it is inconsistent with the community’s values. … So we need to see action from the Albuquerque Police Department and from the groups [responsible to oversee APD] . From where we sit this is an ongoing crisis. This is an ongoing problem.”
APD Forward includes upwards of 20 organizations who have affiliated with each other in an effort to reform APD and implement the DOJ consent decree terms and reforms. Daniel Williams of APD Forward told Judge Browning that members of his group had been hoping to hear “concrete actionable steps that the city has taken” to address the increase in shootings by officers but were disappointed.
Taylor Rahn, an attorney on contract with the city to assist with implementation of the CASA, urged the court and the public to wait before passing judgment and said this:
“We recognize that concerns about the number of individuals who are suffering from some type of mental health issue during the use of force encounter is a pattern that the community is concerned about… The city will not jump to any conclusions and will allow all of the processes that are in place for independent review of individual incidents, officers and patterns to run their course.”
Over the past 18 months, 2 of the shootings have resulted in an officer being fired for violating APD policies.
Police Chief Harold Medina pointed out that the settlement agreement is meant to assess whether policies are in place to reduce an officer’s likelihood of using deadly force, whether officers are trained in those policies and whether they are being held accountable when they violate them. Medina told the court:
“We will never 100% take out human errors, and we will always have officer misconduct. … This process was started for us to identify the officer misconduct and address the misconduct. … I don’t know if there’s ever been a period of time before in the Albuquerque Police Department when individuals were held as accountable. We will continue to hold individuals accountable. We will continue to monitor our policies. We will continue to monitor our training.”
Chief Medina told Judge Browning he has asked the executive staff and academy directors to see if there are missed opportunities for trainings or other tactics that could be used instead of deadly force.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no doubt that the community should be absolutely alarmed over the fact that there has been a spike in police officer involved shootings given the fact such shootings, and accompanying litigation and judgements against the city, is what brought the Department of Justice to the City in 2013 in the first plac. When it comes to APD Police Officer Involved shootings, history is repeating itself despite millions spent and implementation of the settlement reforms.
What is equally alarming is the city for the last 5 years has broken the record of number of homicides each year. Crime rates in the city are also high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021. These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities. All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft. The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.
It’s because of the city’s overall crime rates that no one should be surprised that there have been more police officer involved shootings this past year. The reality is that the city can expect the trend of police officer involve shootings to continue even if APD achieves 100% compliance of all 271 mandated police reforms under the settlement.