Judge gives high marks for re­form ef­forts at APD

New city and po­lice ad­min­is­tra­tions cited for im­prove­ments

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN BOETEL JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

Maybe he’ll throw them an­other bar­be­cue din­ner.

The ap­par­ently pleased fed­eral judge over­see­ing the Al­bu­querque po­lice re­form project said the city’s re­cent progress has left him “try­ing to catch my breath.”

James Gin­ger, the in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor over­see­ing the re­form ef­fort, said dur­ing a re­cent sta­tus con­fer­ence with U.S. Dis­trict Judge Robert Brack that Gin­ger and the mon­i­tor­ing team have no­ticed a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in how Al­bu­querque po­lice are ap­proach­ing the re­form project since a new city and po­lice ad­min­is­tra­tion took over in De­cem­ber 2017.

“APD is on the right path,” Gin­ger said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the con­fer­ence. “As a mon­i­tor­ing team, we’re fairly com­fort­able with the progress that they’re

mak­ing.”

Sta­tis­tics the team uses to track progress show that po­lice have achieved 99.6 per­cent com­pli­ance with pri­mary tasks, 75.4 sec­ondary com­pli­ance and 59.5 per­cent op­er­a­tional com­pli­ance. It’s the first time they’ve achieved above 50 per­cent op­er­a­tional com­pli­ance, Gin­ger said.

To com­plete the re­form case, Al­bu­querque po­lice have to reach and main­tain 95 per­cent com­pli­ance in all three cat­e­gories.

Gin­ger said those sta­tis­tics will be in his next mon­i­tor­ing re­port, which is due out next month. Some ad­just­ments could still be made as it is cur­rently only a draft, he said.

“Just about ev­ery­where the mon­i­tor­ing team looks, we see sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort,” he said.

The re­form ef­fort over­seen by Brack is out­lined in a set­tle­ment agree­ment that was reached be­tween the city and the DOJ in 2014. The agree­ment aims to ad­dress a pat­tern of ex­ces­sive force with the po­lice de­part­ment. Gin­ger pe­ri­od­i­cally writes re­ports to up­date Brack on the progress po­lice are mak­ing.

“And if the (new) re­port bears all that out ... I think some­body in mar­ket­ing ought to get a hold of it and share it with the pub­lic,” Brack said dur­ing the sta­tus con­fer­ence. “This sounds great.”

Re­set but­ton

Brack in July 2016, dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing in the Cer­e­mo­nial Court­house in Down­town Al­bu­querque, called for a “top­ping out cer­e­mony” cred­it­ing po­lice with writ­ing many of the poli­cies they needed to. He had ta­bles in the court­room pushed to­gether and city, De­part­ment of Jus­tice and other of­fi­cials shared bar­be­cue to honor the achieve­ment.

The mood was pos­i­tive even though po­lice achieved op­er­a­tional com­pli­ance with less than 5 per­cent of the needed re­forms at that point.

But by Novem­ber 2017, the mood was no longer fes­tive. Brack dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing ad­mon­ished the po­lice and city af­ter it be­came known that the city had been se­cretly record­ing its meet­ings with Gin­ger and tried to have him re­moved from the case. Brack blasted the city’s tac­tics and said they came “dan­ger­ously close to ob­struc­tion.” He said the city needed to “hit the re­set but­ton.”

Gin­ger in his pre­sen­ta­tion for Brack this week sin­gled out Al­bu­querque po­lice’s Com­pli­ance Bu­reau, which over­sees the re­form ef­fort. He called that group’s work “cut­ting edge” and “vi­sion­ary.”

He also cred­ited the work po­lice have done with clear­ing a back­log of use-of-force in­ves­ti­ga­tions that had been pend­ing and im­prove­ments that po­lice have made in their train­ing academy.

Gin­ger also gave the po­lice credit for work they’ve done to ad­dress high au­to­mo­bile theft rates in the city. Since tak­ing over in late 2017, po­lice of­fi­cials have em­pha­sized traf­fic stops and other en­force­ment projects aimed at car thieves. Po­lice have said auto thefts dropped 17 per­cent in the first six months of 2018.

Gin­ger said that de­cline is a sign the de­part­ment is in step with the com­mu­nity.

“Auto theft is one of the ma­jor com­plaints that we hear from res­i­dents in Al­bu­querque,” he said. “So that was re­ally a good sign that, you know, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first pro­gram­matic change was on a topic that had ... of some con­cern or a great deal of con­cern to mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.”

City and po­lice of­fi­cials didn’t re­spond to re­quest for com­ment this week.

Other con­cerns

Other items dis­cussed dur­ing the sta­tus con­fer­ence in­clude:

The city said some­one al­leged in an email that Al­bu­querque po­lice failed to prop­erly han­dle, or helped cover up, a traf­fic ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a fam­ily mem­ber of a city of­fi­cial. The name and ad­di­tional de­tails about the crash weren’t pro­vided and of­fi­cials said that the Civil­ian Po­lice Over­sight Agency will in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tion.

Po­lice also said they will turn over doc­u­ments pro­duced by an out­side firm that was hired to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions that the com­man­der of in­ter­nal af­fairs back­dated a po­lice re­port to the Civil­ian Po­lice Over­sight Agency and Po­lice Over­sight Board. The city at first ar­gued that the doc­u­ment was sub­ject to at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege but has since agreed to turn the doc­u­ment over to civil­ian over­sight of­fi­cials if they keep the re­port con­fi­den­tial. The po­lice have re­leased a memo that said for­mer in­ter­nal af­fairs Cmdr. Jen­nifer Gar­cia was de­moted and moved to a dif­fer­ent de­part­ment as a re­sult of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Brack asked City At­tor­ney Es­te­ban Aguilar Jr. to send the judge an email ex­plain­ing whether the city is vi­o­lat­ing the set­tle­ment agree­ment by not re­new­ing Ed Har­ness’ con­tract. Har­ness is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Civil­ian Po­lice Over­sight Agency and his con­tract is up Oct. 17. The Po­lice Over­sight Board, which Har­ness re­ports to, has asked that his con­tract be re­newed and he be given a raise. City coun­cilors have not taken any ac­tion on his con­tract and won’t un­til their meet­ing in Novem­ber. City of­fi­cials told Brack that Har­ness will con­tinue to serve “min­i­mally” af­ter his con­tract ex­pires Oct. 17.

James Gin­ger

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