'It would be helpful to know what APD can do, what it’s able to do.... You’re not in a position to help us' -- New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels, speaking to APD officers
BY DAN VUKELICH
The next time you find yourself choking back tears at the podium, Mayor Berry, take a look in the mirror at the man who almost single-handedly dismantled the Albuquerque Police Department as an effective crime-fighting organization.
In your quest to break the union, void the police contract and balance the city budget at the expense of APD paychecks, you drove off officers and reduced the ranks so greatly that the 800 or so cops still out there are working insanely long overtime hours.
Policies directly attributable to you are why veteran street cops are cashing out rather than risking their lives for an administration they believe offers no leadership and devalues what they do. You broke the Albuquerque Police Department. Now we’re all living with the consequences.
Now let’s talk about all this finger-pointing about why “boomerang thugs” are running amok in our streets.
The DA blames a new Supreme Court rule, as does APD, while the mayor calls for the Legislature to pass tougher criminal statutes. The rule, which took effect last February, requires that prosecutors, within 10 days of arraignment, produce for a judge a minimum amount of evidence to show why a person being held in jail should continue to be held. If that deadline isn’t met, under the rule, the charges are dismissed and the arrestee is released.
The New Mexico Supreme Court wrote the rule to address chronic overcrowding at the jail. People – innocent and guilty alike – were being held in jail for months without a trial and no immediate likelihood of one, a problem that led to a federal lawsuit.
The rule – the solution – was the product of input from a committee of police, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers that was created by the Legislature in 2013.
As the agency responsible for most of the arrests in Bernalillo County, APD had a seat on the committee. One nut the panel tried to crack was why it takes APD so long – sometimes weeks, sometimes months – to produce police reports and turn them and other evidence over to the DA’s office.
After meeting almost monthly since the summer of 2013, on June 14, 2014, the committee was joined by the justices of the Supreme Court in the final run-up to drafting the new rule. But after Gorden Eden took over APD, the department’s level of involvement with the committee changed.
This astonishing exchange between Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels and APD officials during the June 14, 2014, meeting is telling:
Daniels: Have you been involved at all in the work of this committee, or is this your first day?
APD Commander Jeremy McCrae: This is my first.
Daniels: Have you been briefed on the decisions APD has made regarding what it’s willing to do to change the way it does business in order to respond to the problems this committee has been solving?
McCrae: I, no, not personally…
Daniels: Is there anyone who can speak for APD or the city government of the City of Albuquerque to demonstrate a commitment that APD is willing to do certain things to contribute to the solutions of the common problem we’re all facing as responsible officials of various aspects of the criminal justice system we’re all serving the people of this county?
McCrae: Well, certainly sir, the police department is always committed to doing whatever we can. I think…
Daniels: How can we tell that?
McCrae: The work we do every day, sir.
Daniels: They sent you here without a briefing, without any information on what this [committee] is up to?
McCrae: I can’t…
Daniels: I’m not trying to get on you. I’m just trying to find out…
McCrae: I do have Major Gonterman [of APD Field Services] to brief you, but as far as I know, this…
Daniels: I apologize for the position you’re in. We need to speak to somebody who has hands on and is actually doing something.
Gonterman: I’m Major Tim Gonterman, Albuquerque Police Department. We have not received any briefing regarding what we’ve done to date. As you well know, we have a new administration and a new command staff in place, so it’s up to us to become up to date on the attendance of meetings of the past or the past administration. I apologize that we’re not up to date on that. I assure you we will be. If you have any specific concerns or requests that you would like us to help out with, I would be happy to entertain them.
Daniels: Could we communicate directly with the mayor, instead? The mayor’s been around awhile. [Inaudible] for the mayor, right?
McCrae: Are you talking specific doings of the police department or of the mayor’s office?
Daniels: Right. What the police department of the City of Albuquerque can and is willing to do to contribute to solving these problems that affect law enforcement, the people of the community, the ability to enforce the criminal laws, the ability to have a fair justice system.
Gonterman: Of course we’re committed to that and I would have to bring myself up to speed on any commitments that were made by the previous administration, is my point, sir. Anything else you would have for us or would like our help on, I am willing to help.
Daniels: OK. It would be helpful to know what APD can do, what it’s able to do. I don’t know that. We’re here to learn from you and I apologize for the situation you find yourself in. You’re not in a position to help us.
What an exchange!
The basic problem, it seems, whether it’s the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into APD or implementation of a new court rule, is that the leadership of APD continues to believe that it is accountable to no one beyond the chief or the mayor.
In reality, APD is part of a larger system of justice governed by rights mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Until APD leadership is willing to work with the other players, it appears the term “boomerang thugs” will be with us for awhile.
Dan Vukelich is editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org