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Could Trump Affect the APD Reform Effort?

Could Trump Affect the APD Reform Effort?

Weaker DOJ Team Could Thwart Oversight

Some people involved in APD’s reform process are worried that the Trump administration might not be as aggressive in enforcing the requirements of the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Coupled with what some say is APD’s unwillingness to reform itself, a less aggressive enforcement effort could wreck the reform process and put APD back where it was two years ago.

Peter Simonson, the executive director of ACLU of New Mexico, said a worst case scenario would be “that they change out the existing lawyers who are staffing the settlement agreement and that they just lose interest in the agreement and don’t receive the necessary resources to push for a successful conclusion.”

Joanne Fine, a member of the Civilian Police Oversight Board, worries that, considering its poor record on reforming itself to date, APD would backslide if the DOJ under Trump were to back off the settlement agreement.

“If you judge the last two years, my forecast [for APD] isn’t great. The best forecast for future behavior is past behavior,” Fine said. “Civilian oversight needs to happen, and it has to be effective, and so far I haven’t seen it.”

Former City Councilor Pete Dinelli said there will most likely be a new U.S. attorney in the state within six months after Trump takes office and that that person could be less aggressive in holding APD to the requirements of the settlement agreement.

“I think the city has always been trying to run the clock on this,” Dinelli said. “I’m very concerned that the whole thing is going to fall apart once a new attorney general and U.S. attorney are appointed. I don’t think they’re going to have the same stomach for going after police misconduct cases.”

One thing reform proponents have going is that there is a signed settlement being overseen by a federal court judge.

Sam Walker, a professor and police accountability and civil liberties expert at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, said the signed settlement offers some protection.

“You actually have a settled court case where a judge is in charge,” Walker said. “That [settlement agreement] can’t be changed unless one of the parties asks for it to be changed. That’s the judge’s decision, so they can’t touch that.”

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.
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  • Pete Dinelli
    November 17, 2016, 8:47 am

    As I said in this Albuquerque Free Press Article, I believe election of Donald Trump will eventually have a major impact the APD consent decree and not for the good. The Department of Justice Civil Rights division under the Obama Administration made it a major priority to investigate police misconduct and excessive use of force cases with some 18 consent decrees in place across the country. With a new Republican Attorney General, New Mexico will get a new United States Attorney. The Berry Administration and Chief Gordon Eden are not committed to the APD reform process as evidence by the recent Federal Monitors report findings. It is not difficult to see the Berry Administration and Chief Eden seek a modification of the consent decree and perhaps even a dismissal of it saying they have made all the changes agreed.

    REPLY
  • Consult Hardesty
    November 18, 2016, 11:28 am

    These observations are undoubtedly pertinent elsewhere. In addition to the DoJ, Civil Rights Division and City of Portland, Oregon, US District Court Judge Michael Simon included the police union as a party to a case to resolve illegal use of force by police. He then did the extraordinary. He granted the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMAC) "enhanced amicus status for remedy purposes." The parties agree to conditionally dismiss the action, subject to the Court retaining jurisdiction to enforce a Settlement Agreement.

    The City responded with new hires and massive police budget increase in 2014. Over successive administrations, the City has balked at reforms which tend towards oversight or deep, significant change to a long-corrupt police culture. In a second, annual status conference last month, DoJ attorneys declared the City in ‘substantial noncompliance’ with an entire section of the agreement pertaining to ‘enhanced’ community engagement.

    Not only does a Trump administration loom; we await a Mayor-elect. One of four City Commissioners has been replaced. Locally, eyes have been on City Council: it’s for four years been hoped by police accountability advocates that political will begins to inform the work of reform. We’ve now been warned that events in D.C. may shape Federal initiative.

    Plea deals can be slimy things. The Feds have, since 2013 Findings of Constitutional violations, preferred working back rooms to engaging in public processes. Wouldn’t it be ironic, for invisible political machinations … beyond victims’ awareness or influence … to now subvert remedy of enhanced public involvement?

    Judge Simon may have put AMAC into play, as a means for introducing justice-delivering motions he’d not get from the other parties. But the multimillion-dollar effort will dissolve, if an incoming US Attorney General simply reverses his Findings … or otherwise colludes with City obstructionists to drop this case. It’d be tough for the Court to demand the effort continue, when investigators and perpetrators agree that there is no case.

    If the City and Feds cannot agree on a pathway into compliance, the Court has authority to send the parties to trial. Even in an Obama administration, litigation was unlikely.

    REPLY
The following two tabs change content below.
Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.