In 2022, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) experienced 18 police officer involved shootings (“OIS”). The first happened on February 1 and the last on November 25, 2021. 10 of those shootings were fatal and exceeds the number of deadly force and excessive force cases that brought the Department of Justice to the city in 2012 to investigate APD.
Given the high number of shootings, APD decided to create an executive “working group” to review each of the 18 officer involved shootings and prepare findings and recommendations. The working group of APD leadership consisted of Deputy Chief of Compliance Cori Lowe, Internal Affairs Deputy Director Zak Cottrell, IA Force Investigations Commander Scott Norris, Field Services Deputy Chief Josh Brown, Investigative Bureau Deputy Chief Cecily Barker and Police Reform Bureau Deputy Director Jimmy Collins. For two months, the group reviewed each of the 18 shootings looking for trends and places for improvement.
On March 23, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) held a press conference and released its Officer Involved Shooting Report (OIS) dated March 9. APD also announced changes in policy it is making in response to the report. The OIS report gives a detailed analysis of each of the 18 shootings and provides case numbers and dates. The link to review the entire 21 page report is here:
During the March 23 press conference, Deputy Chief of Compliance Cori Lowe said the working group looked over each of the 18 police shootings from the initial dispatch records, to lapel videos, to reports from the Force Review Board. Even when a police shooting was within policy the working group suggested ways in which officers could have done better. Lowe said this of the process used to review the 18 cases:
“We went case by case and we tried to figure out what was similar between all of them … and what trends that we saw from each of our individual aspects. … Then we had to try to bring it down and say, ‘OK, what exactly is important for this specific particular topic? … These were the biggest priorities for this go round.”
APD Chief Harold Medina for his part said the department plans to do a similar review every 6 months. Medina said this:
“It’s great we started it last year but, in retrospect, I wish we would have done it six months earlier. … The Albuquerque Police Department is going to have to figure stuff out on its own when the Department of Justice leaves, and it’s going to be a community expectation. … This is one of the first major steps we’ve done in making sure that we have the system in place that we’re taking into consideration … and how we want to function as a police department.”
TYPES OF REVIEW
Since November 16, 2014, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has been under a Federal Court Approve Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating 271 reforms after the U.S. Department of Justice investigation found a “culture of aggression” within APD with the its use of excessive force and deadly force, especially when dealing with people with mental illness and having psychotic episodes.
The CASA mandated APD adopt a new system to hold officers and supervisors accountable for misconduct and violations of policies, especially violations of excessive use of force and deadly force. Personnel procedures were implemented which included outlining details how use of force cases and deadly force cases must be investigated. The CASA requires far more reporting by officers and field supervisors. It requires detailed reviews of those reports up the chain of command within the department. Sergeants and lieutenants are required to be much more involved in field supervision and review of use of force and deadly force.
Every officer-involved shooting is investigated by the Internal Affairs Force Division (“IAFD”). Currently, the External Force Investigation Team (“EFIT”) supports IAFD personnel in completing timely and quality use of force investigations. The requirements of the substance and quality of completed IAFD investigations as well as training and procedure are governed by the Court Approved Settlement.
All completed Officer Involved Shooting investigations are sent for consideration by the Force Review Board (“FRB”). The Force Review Board extensively reviews each case and confirms the investigative findings are supported by evidence, identifies violations of policy, and assesses the incidents for policy, training, equipment, or tactical concerns. A Multi-Agency Task Force required by the settlement agreement is tasked with conducting criminal investigations into all OIS and other instances of potential criminal conduct by APD officers.
“An OIS is considered the use of deadly force under APD’s use of force policy regardless of whether the individual is killed, or even struck, by law enforcement. APD’s deadly force policy provides: “an officer shall not use deadly force against an individual unless the officer has probable cause to believe an individual poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else.” … In addition, APD officers must attempt to use de-escalation, when feasible, prior to using deadly force and the use of deadly force must be the minimum force necessary under the circumstances.”
(Page 1, OIS report)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“The APD working group did not re-examine whether the shootings were within APD’s policy or the quality of the investigations. Even if every OIS was within policy, one of the purposes of the working group was to explore whether there are methods to reduce the overall number of OIS. In conducting this analysis, the working group explicitly applied the “20/20 vision of hindsight”, using information gathered after the shooting as well as information on other OIS to assess these incidents.
The findings of the working group [did] not address whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable. Further to the extent the working group identified similarities in OIS, these are not sufficient to evidence a pattern of conduct. When reviewing the OIS, the working group gave special consideration to whether de-escalation was used and where the use of a less lethal tool earlier in the encounter might have avoided the need for deadly force.
To be clear, a determination that officers may have missed an opportunity for less-lethal force does not indicate that less-lethal force rather than deadly force should have been used at the time of the shooting, but that less-lethal force might have brought the incident to a resolution before the need for deadly force arose.”
TRENDS IDENTIFIED AND CASE STATISTICS
The raw data gathered and the trends identified by the APD Executive Working Group on the 18 Shootings is as followed:
LOCATION: Six of the 18 OIS were located in the Foothills Area Command, four were in Valley Area Command, and Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, and Northeast Area Commands each had two OIS.
USE OF WEAPONS: Eight out of 18 OIS involved individuals discharging a firearm at the time of the OIS. During 1 of the incidents, the individual was actively committing a homicide. Three out 18 of OIS involved an individual pointing a firearm at officer. In 1 shooting, the suspect was reaching for a firearm after being ordered not to retrieve it. Two of the 18 OIS involved suspects with edged weapons. In total, 14 out of 18 of individuals subjected to deadly force were armed or attempting to arm themselves. Three out of 18 involved the use of perceived weapons which ultimately determined to not be lethal weapons. One individual was armed with a rock which he threw at officers prior to the shooting.
USE OF LESS-LETHAL MUNITIONS: In three OIS, less-lethal munitions were attempted. In one OIS, less-lethal was used simultaneously with deadly force. The working group determined three OIS involved situations where the use of less-lethal force earlier in encounter might have resolved the situation and thus, avoided the need for deadly force.
USE OF DE-ESCALATION: De-escalation tactics were used in three (3) shootings. In 13 OIS, the working group determined de-escalation was not feasible due based on the facts of each case. The working group determined de-escalation should have been used but was not in two OIS.
IDENTIFICATION OF INDIVIDUAL PRIOR TO OIS: In 8 out of 18 OIS, officers knew the identity of the individual prior to the shooting.
IDENTIFICATION OF INDIVIDUALS IN CRISIS: Six of the individuals involved in an OIS had a history of calls involving mental health. However, 3 of these individuals were not identified by law enforcement prior to the shooting, thus there was no way for officers to know about any crisis intervention history. Of the remaining three individuals who were identified as having a history of crisis intervention (CIT) calls and CIT officers were dispatched to two of these scenes.
COMPLIANCE WITH APD POLICY: In two of the OIS, at least one officer’s use of deadly force was found to violate APD’s policy. These 2 officers were terminated from employment with APD.
TIMING OF OIS: Six out of 18 of OIS occurred on Tuesdays. The working group considered whether Tuesdays tend to be understaffed and otherwise attempted to evaluate whether staffing levels coincided with OIS. Based upon available data, the working group was unable to determine a link between staffing levels and increased OIS. Ten of the 18 occurred between 10PM and 4AM, 16 on the Swing or Graveyard shift. Younger officers with less seniority are more likely to work the Swing or Graveyard shift than more experienced officers. The working group discussed mentorship of officers which may be affected by fewer experienced officers on the shift.
EXPERIENCED OF OFFICERS-INVOLVED: Twenty of the officers involved in an OIS had six or less years of experience. This represents nearly 2/3 of officers involved in an OIS in 2022.
PRIOR FORCE USAGE: There were 33 officers involved with the 18 OIS who had a total of 87 prior uses of force since the beginning of 2020. Of these 87 incidents, seven were out of policy. Four officers involved in an OIS in 2022 had at least one prior OIS. An additional 21 officers at the 2022 OIS incidents applied force that was not deadly force (e.g. pointing a firearm or an electronic control weapon. These officers had a total of 50 previous uses of force with one (2%) out of policy.
CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED: All 17 of the known individuals involved in the use of force incidents were men. There is one case where the involved individual is unknown. The youngest individual was 18 and the oldest was 59. The median age of involved individuals was 29 and the mean was 34. The percentage of Black and Native American individuals involved in OIS is higher than their population proportion in Albuquerque.
ACTION ITEMS IDENTIFIED
The March 9 Officer Involved Shooting Report identified the following 7 areas where it is going to train and equip APD police officers to help lessen and or prevent future officer involved shootings.
INCREASED TRAINING ON HANDS-ON/EMPTY-HANDED TACTICS
“More effective use of hands-on tactics may have allowed officers to bring some situations to a resolution prior to the use of deadly force. APD will consider increased maintenance training for officers regarding hands-on tactics. APD will ensure the training is provided by qualified staff and delivers consistent instruction.”
INCREASED CONSIDERATION OF LESS-LETHAL MUNITIONS
“The working group identified several OIS incidents in which there was potential opportunity for the use of less-lethal munitions prior to the use of deadly force. APD identified an issue with the policy, which has already been addressed in revisions to APD’s use of force policy published in January 2023. These revisions clarify the circumstances under which less-lethal force may be used and standardize the justification for using similar types of less-lethal force. APD has released a brief training video to address these issues ahead of planned start date of April 2023 for more in-depth training on the revised policy. Further, APD drafted its upcoming Reality-Based Training scenarios to focus on situations commonly faced by officers as well as issues discussed during the working group. In addition, APD will ensure officers continue to receive training on weapons selection to ensure less-lethal options are effective. Specifically, APD will continue to issue reminders about the limitation of Electronic Control Weapons (ECW) during colder months due to bulky clothing.”
“In several of the OIS incidents, there were critical situations that might have benefited from a supervisor on scene and/or more active involvement from supervisors. The working group will ensure APD return into policy for both APD and Emergency Communications that supervisors respond to certain calls for service. Finally, APD will increase focus on command and control during maintenance training for supervisors to include scenario-based training.”
“A significant number of officers involved in shootings had less than six years of experience. This observation is not surprising as the majority of OIS incidents occur with the Field Services Division and less-experienced officers tend to be assigned to FSB, during night shifts. APD officers complete a lengthy training academy as well as field training program upon graduation. However, to ensure newer officers continue to benefit from the guidance of more experienced officers, the working group recommends APD evaluate implementing a policy that Patrolmen Second Class (officers with a year or less experience) are not sent to calls for service with other P2C unless there is an urgent need. APD already limits the number of P2C officer bidding into the same squad.”
ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR OFFICERS
“One of the trends that emerged from review of 2022 OIS incidents is the number of times individuals fired upon officers. APD will evaluate providing all supervisors with a ballistic shield who will provide the shields to their officers during critical incidents when necessary. Additionally, APD will evaluate providing magnifier optic for officers with rifles. Magnifier optics can provide increased visualization for officers and may assist officers in evaluating the threat presented by an individual from a distance.”
“At least one OIS incident occurred after the primary suspect was taken into custody. Although policy and several legal doctrines allow officers to briefly search the area where individuals are taken into custody, APD will evaluate these policies to ensure officers do not have potentially unnecessary confrontations with individuals who are not suspected of a crime. To the extent a warrant is issued for a particular residence, APD will consider whether additional resources are necessary to execute a search warrant.”
“APD policy requires that officers attempt to render medical aid following an OIS incident, where officer safety considerations allow. One OIS incident was referred for further investigation for failure to render medical aid. Although APD does not have sufficient information to make a determination as to whether additional efforts would have improved the individual’s outcome, APD remains committed to ensuring officers provide appropriate medical care within their abilities. APD will ensure officers continue to receive training on wound care and will include post-incident wound care in future RBT scenarios.”
APD plans to hold these police shooting reviews every six months. Some of the new training for these changes will start in April.
APD intends to convene this working work on a semi-annual basis moving forward to discuss any future officer involved shootings.
The links to quoted news source material are here:
COURT APPROVED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT COMPLIANCE
On November 9, 2022 Federal Court Appointed Independent Monitor James Ginger filed his 16th Report on the Compliance Levels of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the City of Albuquerque with Requirements of the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement. The 16th Federal Monitors report is a 332 page report that covers 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:
Under the terms and conditions of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA), 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.
The 3 compliance levels can be explained as follows:
Primary compliance is the “policy” part of compliance. To attain primary compliance, APD must have in place operational policies and procedures designed to guide officers, supervisors and managers in the performance of the tasks outlined in the CASA. As a matter of course, the policies must be reflective of the requirements of the CASA; must comply with national standards for effective policing policy; and must demonstrate trainable and evaluable policy components.
Secondary compliance is attained by implementing supervisory, managerial and executive practices designed to and be effective in implementing the policy as written, e.g., sergeants routinely enforce the policies among field personnel and are held accountable by managerial and executive levels of the department for doing so. By definition, there should be operational artifacts such as reports, disciplinary records, remands to retraining, follow-up, and even revisions to policies if necessary, indicating that the policies developed in the first stage of compliance are known to, followed by, and important to supervisory and managerial levels of the department.
Operational compliance is attained at the point that the adherence to policies is apparent in the day-to-day operation of the agency e.g., line personnel are routinely held accountable for compliance, not by the monitoring staff, but by their sergeants, and sergeants are routinely held accountable for compliance by their lieutenants and command staff. In other words, the APD “owns” and enforces its policies.
On November 9, 2022 Federal Court Appointed Independent Monitor James Ginger filed his 16th Report on the Compliance Levels of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the City of Albuquerque with Requirements of the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement. The 16th Federal Monitors report is a 332 page report that covers the 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:
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%)
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
This is the first time APD has released police shooting trends. APD is now saying it needs to prepare for the day the Department of Justice leaves and it needs to find a way how to navigate through trends and situations. As was originally negotiated, the time frame was 4 years of implementation of the 271 CASA reforms, yet we are into the 7th year of implementation.
It’s likely the DOJ will be here at least another 3 years and even then there is no guarantee they will be gone. Given the progress that APD has made with the compliance levels, there is a chance APD will reach the 95% compliance in each of the 3 compliance levels within a year but after that there must be 2 years of sustained compliance of 95%. APD’s history is that they make progress and then backslide resulting in more monitoring. After millions spent the on reforms and training of officers over 7 years, there is still very little assurance that the City will be rid of the DOJ once and for all as hope springs eternal.
The general public can take very little comfort when our ever so eloquent APD Chief Harold Medina says “The Albuquerque Police Department is going to have to figure stuff out on its own when the Department of Justice leaves.” The biggest “stuff” APD is going to have to figure out after the Department of Justice leaves is not reverting back to its old ways of engaging in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force and a systemic culture of aggression that brought the DOJ here in the first place.