*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional information from APD.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — The Albuquerque Police Department counted 761 encounters with single, distinct individuals where officers used force in 2021, according to a new report from the department. That’s a 20% decrease from 2020, although the numbers are still considered “preliminary” and are subject to change, according to the department.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is required to keep track of when and how it uses force against community members. The requirement for transparency and reporting on the subject stems, in part, from a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) following a series of controversial, deadly police shootings and allegations of officers abusing their authority more than a decade ago.

Settlement and reporting requirements

In November 2012, the DOJ launched its investigation to see if APD officers had used force in violation of the U.S. Constitution. “APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” they concluded in 2014.

Among other oversight following the investigation, APD agreed to publish statistics in an annual report on the department’s use of force. Since 2014, APD has released a handful of reports on their website.

Now, APD has released a “preliminary” report for 2021. The previous report, from 2020, is also still listed as “preliminary” on APD’s website, meaning the data are subject to change.

The reason the numbers might change in future reports, according to APD, is because the department had a backlog of hundreds of use of force cases to investigate. For example, the most recent report only includes investigative data from 58% of the use of force interactions from 2021. To help decrease the backlog, the city hired an external (non-APD) team, which has led to progress in shrinking the backlog.

Recent decreases in force, but rising rates

The most recent two years of statistics are “preliminary.” But at face value, they show that APD has decreased the number of “level 1”, “level 2”, and “level 3” uses of force compared to 2020.

“Level 3” is the most serious, and potentially deadly, type of interaction. “Level 3” uses of force include neck holds, gun fire, interactions resulting in hospitalizations, and the use of deadly force, among other potentially deadly interactions. APD has a full list of definitions listed in its standard operating procedures, which was publish online.

The preliminary data show that in 2021, APD counted 125 “level 3” interactions. In 2020, the department counted 141.

The preliminary data also shows a decrease in the lower-level uses of force (“level 1” and “level 2”). But 2021 numbers show that “level 2” interactions now make up a larger percentage of all use of force interactions. In other words, while the number of cases has fallen for each level of force, “level 2” uses of force did not drop at the same rate as “level 3” or “level 1” cases.

The latest preliminary report also shows that of all the use of force interactions investigated/reviewed (which is only 58% of those that occurred in 2021), in 93% of the cases, the involved officers acted within department policy. That’s a slight decrease compared to the previous year’s preliminary data, which showed a 97% policy compliance rate.

In the broader picture, APD’s data shows that the total number of force interactions are down by about 9% since 2017. That means there were 78 fewer force interactions in 2021 than in 2017, according to the preliminary data. And there was an even bigger decline from 2020 (the highest year presented in the report) to 2021.

Does the data mean APD is avoiding uses of force?

Does the recent decline in force interactions mean APD is improving when it comes to avoiding uses of force? According to APD’s analysis of the data, not necessarily.

APD’s latest report notes that recently, there have simply been fewer calls for service and fewer arrests. That means fewer chances for police to interact with the public.

To adjust for that, APD calculated the rate of force interactions per 100 custodial arrests (arrests where the accused are taken into custody). In 2017, there was an average of 1.04 force interactions per 100 custodial arrests. In 2021, there was 1.34, an increase of nearly 30%.

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The number of force interactions per 100 custodial arrests has increased in recent years. Data from APD.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for APD, says that misdemeanor arrests, in particular, have been falling recently. As a result, the overall rate of force interactions per 100 arrests is expectedly increasing, he says, as those decreasing misdemeanor arrests are interactions that are less likely to involve force, thereby leaving a greater proportion of interactions likely to involve force.

The number of force interactions per 1,000 calls for service has also increased slightly since 2017, although 2021 saw a decline from 2020, and the 2021 number of force interactions per 1,000 calls per service was near the average for 2017 through 2019. One explanation, according to Gallegos, is that some low-risk calls have been increasingly diverted to the new Albuquerque Community Safety Department, leaving APD to deal with a higher percentage of high-risk calls.

APD’s latest report promises a follow-up report once the department works through the backlog of cases. “The use of force cases that were not completed are being investigated and APD is committed to full transparency of the results from those investigations. A supplement to this preliminary report will be issued when the investigations are complete,” the report notes.

The report concludes that “APD is holding officers accountable,” noting that “In 2022, APD has continued to develop and reinforce use of force training for both new officers and in-service training for existing officers that emphasize a variety of topics in policy including de-escalation.”