Nearly four years after the Department of Justice and Albuquerque Police Department signed on to a settlement agreement to reform the department, APD is now rewriting one of the key pieces of reform effort.
The department is now in the process of a total overhaul of its use-of-force policy with an emphasis on clarifying and changing a core component of how officers think about using force.
Department officials publicly presented the new use-of-force policy at a public meeting of the Police Oversight Board Thursday evening, even taking public comment on the new policy.
While the department says the effort is to clarify the language of the policy, many say the new policy also emphasizes de-escalation.
In mid-2016, APD began retraining its officers on a revamped use-of-force policy that was re-written under the previous leadership of Mayor Richard Berry and APD Chief Gorden Eden.
Since then, the department says the policy has proved difficult for some to understand.
“It’s a little bit confusing and it’s proved to be confusing for police officers,” said APD Commander Rob Middleton of the old policy.
As part of the reform effort, APD was required by June 2018 to review the use-of-force policy. Now under new leadership, APD chose to create a new use-of-force policy.
“That was to make this clear, concise and directed,” said Middleton. “So when you read this draft and when the public reads this draft, they’ll see language in here that says shall and its broken down into several paragraphs.”
The policy presentation at Thursday’s Police Oversight Board is a noticeable shift for APD. Under the prior city administration, the city chose to skip the process of taking comments on the use-of-force policy that was ultimately adopted in 2016.
“We want to incorporate the collaborative effort from everybody in this,” said Middleton during Thursday’s meeting.
Commander Middleton explained his take Thursday on what makes the new 2018 policy draft so different from the 2016 policy.
“The current policy tells officers, ‘what can I do to use force in this situation,'” said Middleton. “This policy directs officers, ‘what can I do to de-escalate or minimize, or limit, or reduce or eliminate the need to use force.”
Some community stakeholders who commented on the policy draft Thursday said they “applaud” APD’s effort.
“Especially me as a disabilities rights advocate, appreciate the many references in the policy that emphasize de-escalation as the first requirement,” said Nancy Koenigsberg of Disability Rights New Mexico.
While the policy has a long list of approvals to get through before it takes effect, some members of the public think the proposed changes are a positive start.
“Seems like a real step in the right direction to me,” said Diane McCash.
One of the groups that will have a say in the new policy is the Albuquerque Police Union. KRQE News 13 has learned that the union has raised concerns over clearly defining the meaning behind words like “minimum” and “reasonable” which are used in the policy.
It will likely be months before the policy is finalized. After the policy is accepted, the city will have to refresh officers training in the classroom and with the use of projector-based training technology.