ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The latest report from the outside group tasked with reviewing the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force investigations shows the department is making progress towards acting within police policy. The group, known as the “External Force Investigation Team” (EFIT) calls APD’s progress “a marked improvement.”
Run by an outside team of contractors from Florida, EFIT came to existence in February 2021. The team was designed as a breakout accountability mechanism within the city’s now nearly eight-year-old settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In court, APD has faced continued criticism over the process, speed, and quality of use of force investigations. According to court filings, EFIT was designed to “to assist APD in conducting investigations of Level 2 and Level 3 uses of force by APD officers, while also assisting APD with improving the quality of its own Internal Affairs (IA) force investigations.”
“Level 2” use of force is described as “force that causes injury, could reasonably be expected to cause injury, or results in a complaint of injury.” “Level 3” is defined as “force that results in, or could reasonably result in, serious physical injury, hospitalization, or death.” APD defines all uses of force in an operating procedures document.
Per Albuquerque Police Department (APD) policy currently under review, police officers are required to use the “minimum amount of force that is reasonable, necessary, and proportional based on the totality of the circumstances.” And after each use of force, such as a firearm discharge, the department is supposed to document and review the incident.
In the past, APD has been criticized for having an extensive backlog of over 600 use of force cases that had piled up over the years and deficiencies in its investigative process. The department said a lack of manpower was at the heart of the problem.
Now in its second year of work with the city, EFIT has churned out four reports since November 2021. Their latest fourth quarterly report covers a timeframe from April 22, 2022, to August 5, 2022.
The new report suggests that APD’s use of force investigations are improving in terms of following the rules. As of the previous report, from last quarter, 44.45% of the investigations reviewed by EFIT were found to be “out of compliance” with what’s called a “process narrative.” A process narrative is essentially a roadmap for how investigators are expected to conduct their job or conduct an investigation.
The newest report shows there were fewer “out of compliance” investigations as of the fourth quarter report. The report states that roughly 1/3 of the investigations, or 33.51% of investigations reviewed by the EFIT, were found to be “out of compliance when evaluated against the process narrative.”
“While this is still an obvious concern for [APD’s Internal Affairs Force Division] EFIT, we are very encouraged by the approximately 11-point reduction,” the report states.
Between July 16, 2021 and August 5, 2022, EFIT and IAFD responded to and/or opened investigations on 502 use of force incidents, including 15 officer involved shootings. The investigative teams also made three referrals to the Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF, which is made up of multiple law enforcement agencies and prosecutors) for potential criminal violations by APD staff. The report does not state the conclusions of those investigations.
Of the 502 investigations mentioned, EFIT/IAFD have completed 361 investigation within the 90-day time period outlined in the Department of Justice settlement agreement.
“EFIT is pleased to report that it witnessed a marked improvement in the workings of IAFD,” the latest report says. “While there remains a great deal of work to be done, the tone and tenor within IAFD has improved substantially.” The report notes that this improvement has come about since APD has assigned Commander Scott Norris to head the IAFD Department.
On top of that, 11 new APD internal affairs force investigation staff members could be joining the ranks soon. If the progress continues, the APD’s internal team could take over without the supervision of EFIT, the report notes. In the long run, that could save the city money.
Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association previously noted that paying for a non-APD, external team is expensive. In February, Willoughby told KRQE News 13, “These investigators, they are not cheap, so this is another attribute of millions of dollars being spent by taxpayers of this community because of this of reaching consent decree that has been going on for the last 8 years.”
While progress is being made, it will still be some time before the city can stop paying the external team. Earlier this year, the City Council extended EFIT’s contract through May 2024. EFIT’s next report is expected in mid-November 2022.