On January 18, the Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously to abolish the Citizens’ Police Oversight Board (CPOB) and substitute it with a much smaller civilian board calling it the “Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board with far less authority. The new version of the volunteer board will have less power and fewer members.
The legislation had as co-sponsors Republican City Councilors Renee Grout and Brook Bassan and Democrat City Councilors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis. The sponsors referred the action as update legislation.
Sponsoring City Councilors said it is necessary to clarify the volunteer board’s role, particularly in relation to the paid staff who work in the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, including the full-time executive director charged with overseeing investigations into citizen complaints about alleged officer misconduct.
Former CPOA executive director Deirdre Ewing told the council she supported the bill, referring to herself as one of three past directors, two permanent and one interim, who were “run off” by the volunteer board. Ewing said this about the new board:
“It allows the current agency [and] the professionals who focus on the day-to-day task of investigations that is at the heart of this, to continue doing their job unimpeded by a board that sometimes gets a little focused on personal issues and vendettas rather than the task at hand. ”
City Councilor Brook Bassan, a co-sponsor of the update legislation, cited as reasons for the changes recent turnover in the CPOA’s executive director and a heavy turnover in the nine-member board and severe understaffing. With recent board resignations, it is now at just six members.
Bassan said the new advisory board is intended to fix a disconnect between what the board should be doing and what it has been doing. Bassan said this:
“Right now, things are not really working as we intended them to work. … I believe our job is to find that balance of how to make sure the board has the authority to oversee and protect the community, while also not over-reaching with their authority.”
Councilor Isaac Benton, who co-sponsored the proposal, said finding the best setup has been an ongoing challenge, but it is clear that change is necessary. Benton said this:
“This is a tough nut to crack and I think we’ve tried very hard,” he said. “It’s not out of disrespect to any particular board member, present or past, but it hasn’t worked and it does need a revamp.”
Councilor Renee Grout had this to say:
“This ordinance simplifies the role of the CPOA board and also gives a greater role in policy review to our community policing councils.”
City Councilor Pat Davis said the ordinance reflects the evolution that has occurred over the years. The board’s role is no longer to investigate claims of officer misconduct, but rather to keep an eye on the professional investigators. Davis said this:
“It’s the next generation of what we need it to be.”
PROVSIONS OF NEW CIVILIAN POLICE OVERSIGHT ADVISORY BOARD
The changes called for in the new bill include:
- Adding the term “advisory” to the volunteer board’s name; it would become the Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board.
- The Executive Director would no longer report to the board, nor need the board’s approval before making officer disciplinary recommendations to the Albuquerque Police Department administration.
- No longer requiring the CPOA executive director to report to the board or get board permission before making officer disciplinary recommendations to APD leadership.
- Reducing board membership to five from nine.
- Shifts certain responsibilities from the board to either the CPOA executive director or a new independent “contract compliance officer” hired by the City Council; for example, the board would no longer lead the vetting process when hiring a new director nor set the director’s salary.
- The legislation also transfers what has been the board’s responsibility for vetting Executive Director applicants and sending a list of three top candidates to the City Council for a final decision to a new contract employee hired by the City Council.
- Alters how CPOA makes policy recommendations to APD; it allows the board to comment on policy proposals that originate with APD, but strikes existing language outlining the board’s process for recommending CPOA-generated policies.
- It provides for compensation to board members, including $500 for completing orientation and the initial training and $100 per board meeting.
- Requires the board to consider policy input from the city’s Community Policing Councils.
SWIFT ADOPTION RESULTS IN CONDEMNATION
The proposal moved swiftly through the City Council , going from introduction to final vote in two weeks without the normal hearing before a council committee. The council also suspended its own rules in order to take a final vote after having accepted a substitute version of the bill during the meeting.
No current board members spoke during the January 18 meeting as if protesting the council actions. However CPOA board member Rashad Raynor said he was “disgusted” by what he saw as a rushed job process to gut citizen oversight. Raynor said he did not know about the proposed board overhaul until a month before the bote, noting that it is headed to a full council vote without having gone through the council committee process.
Raynor said this:
“As much as there’s a lot of talking about wanting to get better, the writing on the wall is we don’t want anything to change. … From everything we’ve heard, this [was] a done deal. … They just [had] to do the vote.”
Raynor said the councils rush job to abolish the CPOA should concern the whole community, particularly given the cost of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reform effort in Albuquerque, as well as the number of police shootings. In 2022, Albuquerque Police Department officers shot at 18 people, killing 10, injuring three and missing five.
Bassan disputed charges that it moved to fast, saying the sponsors consulted the necessary people and said this:
“It’s not necessary for us to negotiate the update of this ordinance with the board.”
CITY COUNCIL SNUBS APD FORWARD
One group that the City Council did not consult with and essentially snubbed is the APD Forward Coalition. APD Forward includes 19 organizations who have affiliated with each other in an effort to reform APD and implement the DOJ consent decree terms and reforms. APD Forward is one of the main stakeholders who appears during the court hearings. Members of APD Forward include Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, American Civil Liberties, Bernalillo County Community Health Council, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, Common Cause New Mexico, Disability Rights New Mexico, Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, Equality New Mexico, La Mesa Presbyterian Church, League of Women Voters of Central New, Mexico New Mexico Conference of Churches, New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, Street Safe New Mexico, the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.
On January 18, the APD Forward Coalition emailed all 9 City Council requesting that they defer enactment of the new ordinance. APD Forward Coalition wrote the City Council:
“The APD Forward coalition, representing 19 organizations led by concerned Albuquerque citizens, has been actively engaged with the reform process at the Albuquerque Police Department since we formed in 2014. We believe that voices like ours—voices from across the community that want to see APD become the responsible, community-friendly police department we know it can be—are vital as the City charts it path toward compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement and, more broadly, toward a deeply entrenched culture of constitutional policing at APD.
We are aware that legislation has been introduced as O-22-67 to amend the Police Oversight Ordinance. We believe that rigorous civilian oversight of policing in Albuquerque is an essential component of long-lasting reform. As such, we hope that any changes contemplated with regard to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency or Civilian Police Oversight Agency Board will be decided upon only after a careful, deliberate process that includes meaningful opportunities for feedback from the community, including individuals and groups who have a strong interest in the police reform process.
We strongly urge the Council to postpone any final action on O-22-67 until you have been able to seek and receive broad input and feedback from stakeholders in the reform process and from the community at large.”
The APD Forward Coalition
The City Council ignored the APD Coalition thereby snubbing it.
THE CPOA AND THE DOJ
On November 14, 2014, the City of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a Court Approve Settlement (CASA) mandating 271 reforms of the Albuquerque Police Department APD. The settlement was a result of a year’s long investigation of the APD and findings of “excessive use of force” and deadly for and a “culture of aggression.”
The link to the settlement is here:
A major reform measures mandated the creation of a full time, professional Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) with a full time Director and investigators and with a 9-member, all-volunteer, civilian Police Oversight Board appointed by the city council. The CPOA board is ultimately responsible for investigations of police misconduct and making recommendations to the Chief of Police for disciplinary actions. The board also reviews investigations and examines APD policy and procedures.
The major goal of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and its board is that it was to be the outside entity watching over the APD department when the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement is finally dismissed and the Federal Court appointed Independent Federal Monitor is no longer necessary. As it stands, it will likely be another 5 years before the case can be dismissed primarily because of APD’s failures to implement the reforms and met the compliance levels mandated.
Since its inception, the CPOA and it’s all volunteer board has been in a constant state of turmoil. The turmoil has included sharp turnover of board members and understaffing at the agency. At one point there were only two investigators with the agency, leading to a dramatic decline in the number of cases they completed.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Ever since the creation of the Police Oversight Board and the Police Oversight Commission in 2014, both have been plagued by political turmoil, resignations and membership and staffing turnover. Both have been plagued with constant resistance from the Albuquerque Police Department management and all too often completely ignored by the APD Chief and executive staff as well as the Mayor and City Council. From September 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022, the Police Oversight Agency and its civilian police oversight board has seen the resignation of its Executive Director the Chairman of the CPOA board and 3 members of the civilian oversight board.
One of the most scathing letters of a Chairman of the CPOA Board came from Chairman Eric Olivas’ who outlined the numerous problems. Olivas is a newly elected Bernalillo County Commissioner sworn into office on January 1 to a 4 year term. The link to his resignation letter is here:
The Albuquerque City Council began efforts to try and fix the Police Oversight Agency ordinance by amending the ordinance creating the agency and the board. On February 23, 2022, the Albuquerque City Council voted to defer all action on amending the Civilian Police Oversight Agency Ordinance for two weeks to allow consideration of other changes. Amendments to the CPOA ordinance were eventually enacted on March 7, 2022. The blunt truth is that the Albquerquerqu City Council was attempting to fix the unfixable.
After the passage of a full 8 years of the court approved settlement agreement as well as the tumultuous history of the Citizen’s Police Oversight Commission that was mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, it has become painfully obvious that CPOA and its board of voluntary citizens has become so dysfunctional as to be irreparable and irrelevant. It is painfully obvious that changes and amendments to the CPOA ordinance had no impact on any of the numerous problems identified of Civilian Police Oversight Agency.
It is personalities and hidden agendas that make both the agency and the civilian volunteer board dysfunctional. Adding to the disfunction is more than a little politics thrown into the mix by the Mayor, the City Council, the Chief and his high command and union opposition to any and all kind of civilian police oversight. The civilian board has never had any ability to persuade APD to change policies or improve their training given the extent the Mayor and APD ignore it and undercut it.
The investigation of police misconduct cases and all use of force cases and serious bodily harm cases should be done by “civilian” personnel investigators not by Internal Affairs nor by the Citizens Police Oversight Agency or the Board. The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by sworn police should be assumed by the Office of Inspector General in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary. The Office of Independent Council would make findings and recommendations to the Chief of Police for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.
Link to former APOA Executive Director Ed Harness’ resignation:
Link to Former CPOA Board Chairman Eric Olivas’ resignation letter: