City Councilors Now Agree APD is Stonewalling
City councilors are joining with Albuquerque’s civilian police oversight agencies in charging that Police Chief Gorden Eden is deliberately thwarting all attempts at civilian oversight.
The law requires Eden to explain in writing why he disagrees with discipline the Police Oversight Board has recommended for police officers. But in 54 cases in which Eden has disagreed, he has offered no explanation as to why. The tactic had stalled civilian efforts to oversee APD.
Now, some city councilors are agreeing with committee chair Joanne Fine and Ed Harness, head of the POB’s investigative arm, that APD is trying to run out the clock on reform.
“It is delay and obstruct; they don’t want civilian input, period,” Fine told freeabq.com.
“They just don’t care. They are not stupid people; they just think we are.”
Councilor Isaac Benton was just as harsh.
“Their relationship sounds like he [Eden] is just stonewalling them,” Benton said. “The problem is the attitude of leadership at APD, and under this administration the attitude has not been helpful.”
Councilor Patrick Davis said “APD is playing cute with the process” and that the department “is not following the spirit” of the city’s oversight law or the reform process.
Councilor Ken Sanchez said he’s “concerned” about “why they [APD] are not responsive.” Councilor Brad Winter, who helped write the oversight ordinance, said, “the whole City Council is concerned.”
Councilor Dan Lewis, who is running for mayor, did not return a freeabq.com phone call.
APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza didn’t immediately provide answers to freeabq.com’s question as to why Eden has failed to publicly explain why he has disagreed with the POB’s disciplinary recommendations.
Non-responses and the law
According to the city’s oversight law, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigates civilian complaints against police officers and sends its findings and recommendations of discipline to the POB. The POB then sends its findings and disciplinary recommendations to Eden. If Eden disagrees with the findings and discipline, he has 30 days to say why.
“Imposition of the recommended discipline is at the discretion of the Chief of Police, but if the Chief of Police does not follow the disciplinary recommendation of the POB, the Chief of Police shall respond in writing, within 30 days, with the reason as to why the recommended discipline was not imposed,” the oversight ordinance says.
But up until earlier this year, Eden wasn’t even bothering to respond. In 54 cases from 2016, it appeared he simply ignored his civilian overseers.
That incensed the board, which publicly complained. Then, beginning in late February, Eden began replying to the POB’s findings, but with no explanation of why he disagreed with their discipline recommendations.
The issue came to a head at the POB’s March 16 meeting when APD Major Jessica Tyler said the department wanted to keep Eden’s explanations secret. She said she thought APD had an agreement with the POB to do so.
“When we discussed the lack of the letters to you when we had our first meeting and when we were trying to repair the communications,” Tyler told the board, “I had explained to you that I thought it would be better if we met on the whys of those non-concurrences versus putting more information in something that is a public record so that we don’t get into too many details of the cases.
“The reason the letters were written that way,” Tyler said, “was for that purpose.”
Fine called the idea of a secrecy agreement “ludicrous.” Such an agreement would be in direct violation of the city’s civilian oversight ordinance. Moreover, the details of complaints against APD officers – details Tyler says she would keep secret – are already in the public record by that point. The POB posts its findings, letters and disciplinary recommendations on all its cases on its website, Fine said.
Demanding an explanation
In a March 24 letter to Tyler, Fine said, “I expect Chief Eden to write to the Police Oversight Board explaining why he disagrees with our findings, when he does, as is required by the ordinance.”
Fine wrote it’s important for Eden to explain himself.
“It is the only path to transparency and oversight,” she wrote.
“The public needs to be able to compare and contrast our findings and the reasons behind them. If we are to bridge the communications gap that exists between the public and APD, his must be in writing on both sides. Nothing less has been agreed to or will be.”
Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, was on the citizen’s task force that helped write the city’s civilian oversight law. He said the requirement that Eden explain why he disagrees with the POB is needed to ensure that his actions are legitimate and not merely an effort to give breaks to favored officers.
“If the chief is not providing those explanations he is thwarting a significant mechanism for accountability,” Simonson said. “The task force intentionally incorporated that language, because without that explanation, the POB and the public has no way to determine if the chief’s decision to disagree with the POB is based on valid and sound reasoning.
Fine and Harness said that APD’s Office of Policy Analysis, which is supposed to accept policy recommendations from the CPOA and the POB, is a joke.
Both the city’s ordinance and the reform process settlement agreement the city signed with the U.S. Department of Justice require APD to accept civilian recommendations on policy changes through the OPA.
In a March 16 letter to Eden, Fine said the agency isn’t working.
“OPA has consistently fallen short of its chosen ideal leaving APD without a foundation in best practices or a firm grasp on community needs or contribution,” Fine’s letter said.
Harness said that Eden has lied about the OPA’s makeup by claiming that retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia is a member. “He [Garcia] has never attended an OPA meeting,” Harness said.
Despite Eden’s unwillingness to abide by the city’s oversight law, there’s not much that can be done.
The ordinance has no enforcement mechanism or penalties for noncompliance.
And Benton said the only hope for change at APD is a new mayor.
Seven of the eight mayoral candidates interviewed by freeabq.com have said they would fire Eden if elected in October.
“At this stage of the game we’re just waiting it out and hoping we can get a good mayor and reset things,” Benton said.
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