To say that police oversight in Albuquerque has been dealt some punches is an understatement. In October Civilian Police Oversight Executive Director Edward Harness resigned. He had been the director for seven years and he didn’t go quietly. His resignation letter blasted the CPOA board in particular for basically undermining the accomplishments that had occurred under his leadership by opening up his position to other applicants after he asked to be reappointed. Diane McDermott is currently acting as interim director of the CPOA, or what is left of it.
Within a couple of months of filling the open positions, four out of nine members of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency have resigned. Historically, this has been a tough board to fill with qualified candidates willing to do the training required and then put in the hard and thankless job of reviewing police complaints and use of deadly force incidents. The CPOA recommendations have no teeth as the Police Chief does not have to follow them. One of those resigning said in his letter that the board was not a tool for police oversight as intended by the Department of Justice’s court-ordered reform attempt but is nothing more than an advisory board and a scapegoat for all the problems.
Sylvester Stanley, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer and Superintendent of Police Reform resigned earlier this month. Stanley was the first person to tackle this position that is responsible for providing assessments of APD’s compliance efforts with the DOJ mandate. This position also oversees discipline, training ways to implement positive culture changes within the police department. Sylvester was already retired from APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and took the job to get it going but never said he would stay forever. A national search is underway.
Another match was thrown in the woodpile when in November, Dr. James Ginger, the Federal Monitor appointed to oversee the APD reform effort released a fiery report blasting everyone involved in the investigations of the use of force incidents. Ginger says many things in his 331-page report that covers February through July 2021. He reports to US District Judge James Browning who is overseeing the consent decree. APD brass came out swinging saying they are working to comply the best they can. And to be fair, Dr. Ginger pointed out many ways that APD has made meaningful progress such as training, recruiting officers and stayed the same as far as some policy development and operational development.
U.S. District Judge James O. Browning heard some explaining on Dec. 16 during a hearing on the progress of the mandated police reform was held in federal court. It turned out to be a round and round with attorneys and others with the Department of Justice saying that the police department is not keeping up with clearing backlog of use of force cases and that more officers and other resources needed to be devoted to taking care of meeting the benchmarks of the consent decree. Dr. Ginger told the court that APD has a failure in its lack of leadership. The city defenders responded that the city's leadership has done a lot to clear cases and is devoting resources.
APD Chief Harold Medina addressed the hearing before Judge Browning. “My bottom line is I want the Albuquerque Police Department to be successful,” Medina said. “We can’t reform if we aren’t successful. That is why I continue to make the case that we need support as a police department to balance competing interests.”
Rumors have it that the DOJ intends to file a motion to allow an External Forcer Investigation Team to help clear the inexcusable backlog.
Social media has been abuzz with rumors of an exodus within the department especially within the K9 and SWAT units. APD spin doctors are keeping mum for now, but we'll report as soon as we get some answers.
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