DOJ Monitor: APD has 'no apparent appetite for correcting behavior'
‘Serious shortfalls in terms of basic, well-established oversight and accountability principles’ – Report
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The nuke that the independent monitor in the Albuquerque Police Department’s reform case dropped on APD on Sept. 16 – saying it appears the department has no apparent appetite to reform itself – doesn’t seem to have moved Albuquerque’s city councilors.
Monitor James Ginger’s blistering 51-page special report on APD’s lack of reform progress was pretty much summed up in two sentences: “The agency has almost no appetite for correcting behavior that violates existing policy. Therefore it is nearly impossible at this point to rely on force data that APD reports,” Ginger’s report to U.S. District Judge Robert Brack said.
Ginger also said that APD’s command staff is mired in a “culture of low accountability” when it comes to holding officers accountable for excessive use-of-force incidents. The report blasted APD for making excuses for officers and for failing to properly investigate use-of-force incidents involving officers.
ABQ Free Press called all nine city councilors to ask whether they had continued confidence in APD Chief Gorden Eden and his command staff. In its messages, the newspaper asked if any of the nine was ready to call for Eden and top commanders to resign.
Three councilors responded. None was willing to call for sweeping changes at APD. Nor did they want the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the department.
“I don’t think it’s right that the department doesn’t have an appetite for reform,” Councilor Patrick Davis said. “I don’t think they have adopted a model that can get us to where we want to go.”
Should Eden go?
However, Davis said that getting rid of Eden and his command staff would derail any good things the reform process has accomplished so far. Only 15 months remain in Mayor Richard Berry’s term, and “no police chief in their right mind” would accept a job as head of a police department knowing that they might have only have only several months on the job, Davis said.
Eden and the others have concluded that no matter who the next mayor is, they will probably be gone, Davis said. That means the reform process, no matter how slowly it’s going, shouldn’t be interrupted.
“We have to set up the department for the next chief and a reformer to finish the job,” Davis said.
Councilor Diane Gibson said she agreed with APD when it said the cases for which Ginger criticized them for failing to properly investigate occurred before new accountability policies were put in place.
“The city and APD, I think, do have a leg to stand on when they say that he [Ginger] did not really define the periods of time that the investigations occurred,” Gibson said.
Council President Dan Lewis told the newspaper on Sept. 19 that he was still reading the report and needed time to digest it. The newspaper didn’t immediately hear back from the six other councilors.
What happens if APD continues to drag its feet on the reform process and Ginger keeps blasting the department’s intransigence in his reports?
That’s up to Judge Brack, who ultimately has authority over what happens. If Brack decides that the department can’t, or is unwilling, to reform itself, he can order a special master to take it over. That’s what happened in a lawsuit over the state Human Services Department misconduct in processing food stamp cases.
But in police cases, judges are reluctant to go that far because it means they would, in effect, have to supervise a police department, according to an expert on consent decrees.
Ginger’s report blasted APD on several fronts. He basically said the department, at least at this point, can’t reform itself.
“Events of the recent past … raise serious questions about the department’s capability to transform itself in the remaining months of 2016,” the report said. “In short, to effect the cultural change that will be necessary to reach compliance with the CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement], APD must institute a culture of accountability, and fairly and universally enforce policy provisions.
“In the opinion of the monitoring team, that will only occur after the highest-ranking members of the organization apply a significant, persistent and genuine downward pressure of accountability, where supervisors at all ranks are routinely held to a high standard of performance.”
Ginger cited four cases at APD – all in 2015, months after the DOJ settlement was signed in late 2014 – in which officers apparently used excessive force to control suspects. He said those cases weren’t properly investigated by APD’s command staff.
One involved an officer kneeing a suspected car thief in the head, another resulted in a suspect’s arm being broken when officers tried to handcuff him, a third resulted in a suspect’s collarbone being broken after two officers tackled him to the ground, and the fourth was an incident where an officer Tasered a suspect multiple times and put him in a neck hold.
APD never investigated that neck-hold case on its own.
“It was only through the persistence of the monitoring team that this case was ever investigated by APD,” Ginger’s report said. “Even today, despite extensive effort and oversight by the monitoring team that case lingers as having been only ‘adequately’ handled.”
Ginger ripped APD for, in effect, excusing away excessive use of force by its officers.
“At this point the monitoring team believes that even legitimately questionable use or shows of force cannot survive APD’s process, since each step appears preconditioned to rationalize or explain away officer conduct,” the report said.
Ginger also blasted APD for saying that its deficiencies are old news or the result of growing pains that are the result of its settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We beg to differ, as most of the deficiencies have little to do with the CASA and, instead, represent serious shortfalls in terms of basic, well-established oversight and accountability principles,” Ginger’s report said. “Moreover, most investigative lapses are straightforward and basic. In our judgment, the majority of deficiencies are attributable to a culture of low accountability within APD.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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