'They [cops] are terrified of going to jail for simply doing their jobs' - Sean Willoughby, police union president
Danger in Failing to Use When Needed, Memo Says
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
It’s loosely called the “Ferguson effect,” a situation where police officers refrain from doing their jobs as trained because of fear of being disciplined, sued or charged with a crime. And now, the Albuquerque Police Department is saying that the Ferguson effect has hit its officers, and it is concerned.
APD recently sent supervisors a memo called “Under Use of Force” in which it cautioned that officers are putting themselves and the public in danger by not doing their jobs correctly and not using force when called for.
“It has come to the attention of the panel, as well as the Critical Incident Review Team, that field officers are not using the appropriate amount of force at the appropriate time in an encounter, or not using force at all,” the memo from APD’s Professional Accountability Bureau said. “This can be problematic for several reasons. One, it puts the officer’s safety and well being in jeopardy.
“Two, it presents safety concerns for the person the officer is using force against. Three, there is a potential for placing innocent bystanders in jeopardy.”
The memo, which was issued on June 1, also said that the under-use-of-force can lead an officer to use excessive force later in an encounter, and that it could also result in the same consequences as excessive use of force “such as civil liability, malfeasance, and nonfeasance issues.”
APD’s Professional Accountability Bureau consists of the Internal Affairs Unit, Planning and Policy Division, Communications Division and the Real Time Crime Center. The police academy and recruiting and records units are also part of the bureau. The CIRT examines police lapel camera videos of all use-of-force instances.
Shawn Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers association, said many Albuquerque police officers are afraid to do their jobs as they’re trained to.
“Officers are hesitating when using force. No one wants to get into trouble, no one wants to go to prison,” Willoughby said. “It has caused several officers to hesitate when using force, and it angers me.”
APD’s memo didn’t detail exactly how and under what circumstances officers aren’t using enough force. But Willoughby offered an example. “I have seen officers allowing individuals suspected of crimes to get away with more than they should,” Willoughby said. “It’s standing at the driver’s side door of a car saying, ‘Sir, please get out of your car’ 50 to 100 times before you put your hands on them and forcibly get them out of the car.”
Willoughby blamed the situation on the U.S. Department of Justice and a lack of support for officers from APD’s top management. He said that in nearly every city in which the DOJ has signed a consent degree with a police department, officers are afraid to do their jobs.
“They [cops] are terrified of going to jail for simply doing their jobs,” Willoughby said. “Albuquerque is not in a bubble. This is going on everywhere the DOJ goes. I don’t think it is the DOJ’s fault, but there is a track record in departments that get listed by the DOJ of de-policing.”
ABQ Free Press asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a comment on APD’s memo. Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez said the agency was studying the memo to determine if it could comment.
The newspaper also asked APD for comment and details about the kinds of incidents in which officers aren’t using enough force. APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza asked for a copy of the memo, which the paper sent her.
Many have claimed that the Ferguson effect has caused police officers to refrain from proactive policing, and crime rates to spike, especially homicides, which increased 17 percent collectively in 2015 in the nation’s 56 largest cities. A DOJ report released Wednesday said the debate over the causes of the homicide increase “has been largely free of systematic evidence.”
The study continued: “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented. It was also heavily concentrated in a few cities with large African-American populations. Another version of the Ferguson effect, however, switches the focus from changes in police behavior to the longstanding grievances and discontent with policing in African-American communities. In this interpretation, when activated by controversial incidents of police use of force, chronic discontent erupts into violence.”
Albuquerque’s crime rate increased by 1.5 percent in 2014, according to the FBI. Violent crime was up, but property crimes were down.
APD and the city signed a settlement agreement with the DOJ in November 2014. The agreement requires APD to reform itself and return to a practice of constitutional policing.
On Tuesday night, the independent monitor for the settlement agreement, James Ginger, reported that APD had successfully rewritten 36 of the 37 policies it is required to redo under the agreement.
Meanwhile, Willoughby urged cops to not be afraid to use force. “You need to use the amount of force that is reasonable to save you, the suspect and the community,” Willoughby said. “When you hesitate, that hesitation can get you killed.”
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