Several reports became public in the last couple weeks that have cast some shadows on the Albuquerque Police Department and its progress complying with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice. Back in 2014 the DOJ found that APD had a pattern and practice of excessive force after a string of officers involved killings.
As The Paper. reported online, the federal monitor released his 13th progress report, all 300-plus pages. In a nutshell, Dr. James Ginger said there has been no real progress and that it appears the department does not take the task of reform seriously.
According to the report, between August 2020 and January 2021, the department has not investigated 60 percent of use of force cases. Only 4 percent of 54 excessive use of force cases that caused hospitalization or death were completed in 90 days. Under police union agreement, use of force investigation needs to be completed within 90 days or, with an extension, 120 days. The chief of police says that this is because the Internal Affairs department is shorthanded. The department has a target of having 24 investigators on board; there are currently 10 internal affairs investigators on staff with four more in training. This led to the department bringing in civilian investigators to work along with sworn investigators to get the backlog cleared by May 2022—yes, one year away. And this group of investigators is not the team brought in by the Department of Justice that will police the police that police the police. Whew. Hopefully, all of these eyes will help. If not, they could create even more confusion.
Dr. Ginger says in the report that the average length of time for departments to work through these types of court-ordered settlements is about eight years. And he says that the time frame is fast approaching for this department. The report says, during this reporting period, 86 misconduct cases were, for the most part, not being handled properly. One positive comment was that the Force Review Board increased its quality of oversight at their weekly meetings. Ginger said it will take time, though, for these changes to trickle down to the area commands.
Some at APD and its union folks say the federal monitor keeps changing the criteria and basically blows little things way out of proportion. Dr. Ginger says those are excuses, and the delays are because the department does not want to discipline officers for excessive force. All of this means the police department is out of compliance in the primary and secondary areas. And as Dr. Ginger says in his report, all of this is without meaning if APD does not own its responsibilities.
What is all this Court Approved Settlement Agreement costing the city these days? According to the most recent CASA report given to the City Council at its May 3 meeting, quite a lot. This report was for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, which means July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. First question: Why the late report? Currently, we are sitting in fiscal year 2021.
The Paper. reached out to the city legal team about the late report but didn't receive an answer. Without an answer on the late report, as of June 30, 2019, the city spent $3.5 million dollars during that fiscal year to implement CASA, according to the Department of Justice settlement. Of that amount, the big ticket dollars went to Dr. Ginger to the tune of $1.1 million and another $1.4 million for the team that oversees implementation; $202,000 went to use of force investigations; $52,000 went to compliance by specialized tactical units; $77,000 for crisis intervention reporting and analysis with another $193,000 for certified crisis intervention responders; $175,000 went for policies and training; $82,000 for recruitment and $136,000 went to the establishment of community policing councils. The list goes on from there, showing the costs associated with those policing councils.
This report was on the City Council’s consent agenda and was passed along with a dozen or so other items and was accepted with no discussion.
Another report passed without comment at the May 3 City Council meeting was the Oct. 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 litigation report. This shows settlements or other payouts the city has made during this period.
One number is 85,000 bucks. That's what it cost when the city allegedly did not comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act in regards to a request for Albuquerque Police Department records. Jeremy Dear, an Albuquerque police officer, was fired after shooting and killing a burglary suspect named Mary Hawkes in 2014 while his body camera was turned off. While the case against Dear was dismissed, the city said Dear was fired for repeatedly failing to turn on his lapel camera. The $85,000 paid to Dear was part of a settlement in one of the lawsuits Dear filed against the city when Dear said the city did not respond to a Inspection of Public Records request and may have destroyed records related to the case.
Also on the report were two $40,000 settlements made to two men who were attending the Black Lives Matter protests last summer on Civic Plaza. Two men were detained and cited for carrying a firearm. One of the men was La'Quonte Barry, who said they had been repeatedly harassed by armed Cowboys 4 Trump supporters who were not detained. The citations were dismissed,but the two men sent tort claims notices to the city, and the city settled pre-suit for $40,000 each.
Another person was rear-ended by a police officer and received $13,000.
While there is not a specific definition of what should go on a government consent agenda other than what is considered routine government housekeeping items, the CASA spending reports and litigation reports are not routine when our city’s police department is operating under a federal consent decree. Open discussion at public meetings may help shine a light of change.
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