Two ABQ Journal Guest Opinion Columns On APD: “Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”; “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”; Opinion Columns Highlight APD’s Reform Progress Despite Record Civilian Killings

On Sunday, June 16, the Albuquerque Journal published two separate guest opinion columns on APD’s Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and the implementation of the mandated reforms. The first opinion column was written by Pete Dinelli entitled “Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”. The second opinion column was  written by APD Deputy Chiefs Cecily Barker, Josh Brown, J.J. Greigo, Michael Smathers and George Vega and is entitled “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”.

The two opinion columns were submitted  separately  from each other and totally unbeknownst to each other. The headlines and accompanying photos were written and provided by the Albuquerque Journal.  Read together, the columns complement each other and highlight the direction of APD is moving with the reform process.

Many thanks to the Albuquerque Journal for publishing the articles together. Following are the unedited opinion columns with links:

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”



 “For the past nine years, the Albuquerque Police Department has been operating under a Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandating 271 reforms after a Department of Justice investigation found that APD had engaged in a pattern of “excessive use of force” and “deadly force” and finding a “culture of aggression.”

Over nine years, the city has spent millions on reform efforts, has created and staffed new divisions to hold APD officers accountable, rewrote use of force policies and procedures and trained APD officers in constitutional policing practices. The reform has been accomplished under the watchful eye of the federal court and an appointed Federal Independent Monitor.

On June 4, a federal court hearing was held on the 19th Federal Independent Monitor’s Report and APD’s progress in implementing the mandated reforms of the CASA. The federal monitor reported that APD has reached 100% primary compliance, 100% secondary compliance and 96% operational compliance of the 271 reforms mandated by the settlement.

Under the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, once APD sustains a 95% compliance rate in all three identified compliance levels and maintains it for two consecutive years, the case can be dismissed. The significance of APD being in compliance is that APD has now entered into a new “sustainment” phase to last until the end of 2025. If there’s no backsliding, which has occurred in the past, the DOJ consent decree can be dismissed.

Despite the improvement and gains made by APD in the implementation of the reforms, APD police officer shootings and the killing of civilians is occurring at a “deeply troubling” rate. In terms of overall shootings, both fatal and non-fatal, law enforcement officers in Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County shot 131 people between 2013 and 2022.

On April 10, the national nonprofit Mapping Police Violence reported that last year, APD killed 10.6 people per million residents, which is more than any police department of comparable size in the nation. APD was ranked No. 1 in police officers killing civilians in a listing of 50 largest cities in the United States.

Federal Judge James Browning asked how APD can be in compliance with the settlement given that the level of police shootings is “at the same level as it was when you started this process. We are still having, I would say, troubling police shootings.”

DOJ attorneys responded saying police are being held accountable and with training and de-escalation skills, police officers are using constitutional policing practices handling lethal encounters.

A cynic would say if you are killed by APD while you commit a crime, at least APD followed constitutional policing practices.

The CASA was not designed to guarantee or completely stop nor prevent police officer shootings. It was designed to implement constitutional policing practices, especially when dealing with the mentally ill. There never was a guarantee that police officer shootings would go down or simply never occur even with reforms.

What the CASA reforms ensure is that police officers are being held accountable when they violate constitutional policing practices and people’s civil rights. All that really can be done is to train and implement constitutional policing practices in the hopes that it will bring down police officer shootings of civilians.

It can be said that the spirit and intent of the CASA have now been fully achieved. Given the extent of the compliance levels, the work of the federal monitor is done. The purpose and intent of the settlement has been achieved and it should now be dismissed. The city should seek to negotiate a stipulated dismissal of the case with the Department of Justice sooner rather than later.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE: Pete Dinelli is a former Albuquerque city councilor, former chief public safety officer and former chief deputy district attorney. You can read his daily news and commentary blog at

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”


“By reaching compliance with all of the requirements of its settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Albuquerque Police Department has proven the department can fight crime and be held to higher standards of accountability at the same time.

Harold Medina was appointed chief at APD when trust in police was at a low point and communities across the nation did not want to invest in law enforcement. Chief Medina made it clear that he would focus on two priorities at once: Organizing the department around fighting crime and meeting the goals of reform.

As deputy chiefs, we have the responsibility to implement Chief Medina’s vision. A major part of that is to take the accountability lessons we learned through the reform process and apply the same standards to fighting crime. Just as the chief demands results from us on a daily basis, we now have a structure, driven by data, which we use throughout the chain of command.

As homicides increased nationwide after COVID-19, APD changed strategies. We modernized our investigation capabilities and dramatically increased the number of solved cases and murder arrests. Homicides are going down and murder suspects are being held accountable.

Albuquerque had the reputation as the top city in the nation for auto theft. An investment in bait cars, a new helicopter, license-plate readers, and other technology, along with aggressive policing, has moved Albuquerque from No. 1 to No. 7 in the rankings, which translates into a reduction of more than 1,000 stolen vehicles per year.

Arrests also declined during COVID, but increased by 23% between 2022 and 2023. At the same time, the number of use-of-force cases continued to drop, meaning APD officers are using force less often. In its latest report, the Independent Monitoring Team that oversees APD’s reform efforts noted that more serious use-of-force incidents are down 37%.

Still, use of force is inevitable in some cases, especially with the dangerous combination of guns and drugs with property crimes. In April, auto theft detectives encountered one such individual who fired a handgun at officers when they tried to take him into custody. They later discovered two bags with meth, along with the handgun, when they searched the vehicle.

A similar scenario played out on Dec. 30, 2023, when officers responded to a stolen vehicle that alerted a license plate reader. As officers attempted to take the suspect into custody, the suspect shot the officer. Another officer shot the suspect, who died as a result of his wounds. Officer Zachary Garris suffered a serious injury to his hand, but he survived. He continues to recover after several surgeries.

Critics continue to emphasize the number of officer-involved shootings in Albuquerque as they argue whether APD has reformed. But DOJ leaders told the judge overseeing the settlement agreement that they engaged multiple experts with law enforcement experience to review APD shootings from 2022 and 2023. The review did not show a continuation of the pattern and practice of unconstitutional uses of force.

One of the benefits of the reform process is a new emphasis on quality data that tracks virtually every aspect of policing in Albuquerque. That data shows APD officers are meeting policy in 97% of use-of-force cases. When force incidents are out of policy, the department is aware of violations and officers are held accountable.

The DOJ announced in court this month that as long as the department continues to meet reform goals, the settlement agreement could end for APD by November 2025. APD has already proven it can meet the requirements for more than half of the settlement agreement. The remaining requirements are being monitored by city monitors or by the Independent Monitoring Team.

In any case, APD has the tools to tackle crime challenges while maintaining its commitment to constitutional policing. As the DOJ said in court, APD has been thoroughly scrutinized during the past decade. It’s time to move forward using the high standards created through reform.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE:  Cecily Barker is the deputy chief of APD’s Field Services Bureau. Josh Brown is deputy chief of the Special Operations Bureau. J.J. Griego is deputy chief of the Support Services Bureau. Michael Smathers is deputy chief of Accountability. George Vega is deputy chief of the Investigations Bureau.

The link to a related Dinelli blog article is here:

Federal Court Hearing On 19th Federal Monitors Report; APD Police Officer Involved Shootings Still Occurring At “Deeply Troubling” Rate;  APD Ranks #1 In Civilian Killings Despite Being In Full Compliance With CASA  Reforms; Mandated  Reforms Achieved Under Settlement Justifies Federal Case Dismissal


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.