ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – City councilors are hearing concerns about a continued number of vacancies on the civilian volunteer group tasked with police oversight.
At an Albuquerque city council meeting Monday, councilors were told that by February 2020, the city’s Police Oversight Board will have three vacancies, leaving the board with six of nine members.
The oversight board is required under the City of Albuquerque’s police reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Meeting monthly, the Police Oversight Board (POB) reviews citizen complaints against APD officers and officer-involved-shooting cases. The board also helps review and write department policy among other tasks.
Nearly five years into the board’s formation, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis says the POB has proved to be a worthy piece of police oversight.
“Civilian oversight is the way we keep our police department honest, it’s the way we keep our police department focused on community policing,” Davis said in an interview KRQE News 13 Friday. “We know it works, the civilian Police Oversight Board has cleared more than 200 allegations of police misconduct, they’ve also identified some big issues in the police department that have led to big reforms.”
However, Davis is also concerned the unpaid, volunteer board’s workload may be too daunting to keep up with and that the board may need more help.
“I think the biggest concern we see is right now, we have three vacancies on the board,” said Davis, speaking of the two current vacancies the upcoming vacancy that’s expected in February 2020.
City attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. shared his concerns about the vacancies at Monday’s council meeting.
“We do want to stress the importance of this because as it currently stands, the board is not in operational compliance,” said Aguilar Jr.
“Operational compliance” represents the third and final level of compliance that needs to be met for Independent Monitor James Ginger to clear APD from the DOJ reform agreement. That reform agreement is enforceable by the U.S. Federal Court.
While the city says it has at least four applicants vying for spots on the Police Oversight Board, the process of getting board members trained is extensive and time consuming. Davis and other councilors have also noticed how several board members have left their positions at the end of serving a single three-year term.
“What’s more concerning is that it seems that most of the people after serving a term choose not to come back,” Davis said.
Davis believes the volunteer board’s workload may be driving people away.
“We found that some of the members are putting in more than 40 hours a week just to keep up with the cases that they’re studying,” Davis said.
In the next few months, Davis says he and his fellow councilors should consider possible changes, including either changing the scope of the board’s work or hiring more help for the investigative agency that helps the unpaid volunteer board do its work in reviewing cases.
“Clearly they’re telling us its time because not enough of the good people want to stay in it to do that work,” Davis said.
Davis says he’s expecting some of these possible changes to be talked about in the next four or five months before the city passes its next budget.