'Our time and efforts are wasted on a Department which is determined to resist any meaningful input on policies from civilians' - board chair Beth Mohr
Civilians involved in DOJ Reform Squawk to Court
Complain APD freezes them Out
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Mayor Richard Berry and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden have sparked a citizens’ revolt as civilians who are supposed to take part in reform efforts at APD say they’re fed up with systematically being ignored.
The revolt centers around APD’s failure to abide by the terms of the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit settlement to incorporate civilian oversight and policy recommendations into its day-to-day operations.
First, it was the Civilian Police Oversight Board that wrote a letter on Oct. 27 to U.S. District Judge Robert Brack charging that APD has turned that panel’s service into “a waste of time.”
Next came the six area command community policing councils, also formed as part of the DOJ settlement, that wrote the judge on Nov. 3 alleging that APD and the City have ignored them as well.
The letters – along with a critical report by the central figure in the reform effort, the independent monitor James Ginger – come in advance of a Nov. 18 hearing, during which the parties are to report to Brack on progress of the effort to reform APD’s pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force.
“Our time and efforts are wasted on a Department which is determined to resist any meaningful input on policies from civilians,” oversight board chair Beth Mohr, a former police officer, said in the letter to Brack, who is overseeing the settlement agreement and has the authority to assume control of APD if he concludes APD can’t reform itself.
“It appears clear that APD’s goal is to frustrate civilian oversight and input at every turn,” Mohr wrote.
At the Nov. 18 hearing, Brack will listen to all of the concerns and to APD’s response to them.
Mohr continued: “Chief Eden and the APD under his command stand in violation of the CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement] and the City of Albuquerque Ordinance, and yet there are no consequences for the Department or the Chief personally.”
Joanne Fine, a member of the oversight board, told ABQ Free Press Weekly she is sick of APD’s obstructionist efforts and that she’s done playing nice with Eden and Berry.
“There has been no serious, meaningful input by civilians about any changes at APD. That includes no civilian input into the policy development process at any level,” Fine said. “I’m done waiting for them. We are done playing nice; we are done trying to be collaborative; we are done trying to be cooperative. We have been thwarted at every turn.”
ABQ Free Press Weekly sought comment from Celina Espinoza, a spokesperson for APD, and from Rhiannon Samuel, a spokesperson for Mayor Berry, and did not receive responses.
Fine and others said APD has played a game of appearing to accept civilian oversight, yet refusing to collaborate as the DOJ settlement anticipates. For instance, Fine said, members of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency – the investigative arm of the oversight board, made up of former police officers – are supposed to have input into APD’s proposed policies; yet APD insists the agency’s members can only make grammatical changes, not contextual ones.
“It’s meaningless because you cannot change content. You can’t suggest that a policy is a horse of a different color; you can only arrange how their idea is communicated,” Fine said. “There is no opportunity for changing policies of any kind at APD.”
Members of the citizen policing councils, which were formed in November 2014 as part of the settlement agreement, say APD has been ignoring their policy recommendations for two years. They charge that Berry’s office has provided almost no help in getting the CPCs up and running, as was required under the CASA.
Jim Souter, chair of the South Valley Command policing council, said his organization finally got a response from Eden on Oct. 18 on one of its policy recommendations.
“It’s the first response we have gotten from the chief in two years,” Souter said. “It’s kind of insulting when you don’t even get a, ‘Hey, I got your email’ – what you and I would call common courtesy – and that has been the frustrating part about it. We’ve never gotten a written response from the four policies we submitted in 2015.”
In the letter to Brack, the Northeast Area Command policing council said Eden has ignored two invitations to speak. “Coupled with recent reports about poor communication of Chief Gorden Eden with the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, we feel this is emblematic of a larger disregard for accountability and outside oversight within APD, particularly [among] high-level command staff,” the letter said.
“We would also note that Mayor Berry has never attended a CPC meeting in any area command. In summary, we do not have any evidence [that] Eden or top APD command staff has any interest in the work of CPCs – or regard for council members and the general public who attend meetings.”
The letter added that the Northeast Command’s policing council’s members have heard “troubling statements” from police officers, APD’s training staff and the department’s “community relations surrogates” regarding their inquiries to APD about the CASA and policy changes. Those comments include, “Nothing changed. We just do more paperwork,” and “The monitor’s report is three months old and we have already fixed that,” the letter said.
The policing council’s letter continued: “These statements are frequent examples that indicate – to this council – a general disregard for the CASA agreement. Such comments imply a lack of seriousness and lead the general public to believe there is no real motivation to change or improve APD.”
Ron Halbgewachs, chair of the Southeast Area Command CPC, said the group has lost most of its original members due to frustration with APD’s failure to respond to its policy recommendations.
“Many of our original members gave up and resigned, saying, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore,’” Halbgewachs said. “We still don’t feel like we are getting any communication with Chief Eden, and we don’t as far as the mayor is concerned. There is no communication, zip, zero.”
The oversight board and the local policing councils are not alone in their frustration. On Sept. 9, 2015, APD Forward, a coalition of 18 community groups that is also working to reform APD, wrote Berry and Eden to complain about APD’s refusal to submit proposed policy changes, as required by the CASA, to the civilian entities.
Souter, who has spent two years on his CPC, was blunt when asked what he thought of APD’s failure to respond to his group’s policy recommendations.
“Like I’m wasting my time,” Souter said.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at email@example.com