ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Albuquerque called it one of the most “ambitious aspirational goals in the nation” to overhaul a police department. In late October 2014, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice after it found APD engaged in a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force.”
City leaders outlined a four-year plan to get it done. Now, seven years later, it’s unclear when APD will end its reform effort.
“APD remains dedicated to improving the department’s overall operations and meeting the requirements
outlined,” the department wrote in a report filed in September of this year. APD’s discipline policy “was revised and published in July 2021,” the department points out. And numerous other changes have been made in the last year, including hiring a civilian in May 2021 to develop APD’s training curriculum.
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However, recently filed reports in federal court outline key issues preventing progress. An aversion to discipline and a lack of data-driven decision making are just some of the problems keeping APD from holding up their end of the settlement, one of the reports shows. As of October 2021, APD has only implemented 59% of the court-mandated requirements on a day-to-day level.
Background: APD is under a court mandate to make improvements
Back in 2012, amid a series of controversial, deadly police shootings and allegations of officers abusing their authority, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation to see if APD officers had used unconstitutional force. “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.
In response, Albuquerque entered a settlement agreement with the DOJ in October 2014. That agreement outlines 276 court-mandated goals that APD has been working on since then, with oversight by a court-approved independent monitoring team. The team is lead by James Ginger, director of a private company called Public Management Resources.
A May 3 report by Ginger and the independent monitoring team shows APD has developed policies to meet all 276 goals, but has only implemented and adhered to about 60% of the settlement goals on a day-to-day basis. Compared to the previous progress report, APD has actually lost progress in terms of both training and in-the-field operations. That’s a drop in performance that “should sound alarms at all levels of the Albuquerque City government,” according to the monitor’s report.
These declines in progress have occurred despite “extensive and intensive ‘hands-on’ guidance and advice from the monitoring team,” the report from the independent monitoring team reveals. “The monitoring team views these drops in compliance to be serious and concerning, as they reflect substantial and serious lapses in APD’s command and oversight practices.”
Multiple issues prevent progress
To address the recent allegations from the monitoring team, in July of 2021 APD created a team of “outside investigators” who are “run by an outside Administrator,” a recent court document shows. This team — called the External Force Investigation Team — is intended to “guide, direct, and, if necessary, take over investigations” into uses of force.
Still, the same report that describes this new investigation team also includes an analysis by AH Datalytics, a consulting firm. Both the AH Datalytics report and the independent monitor’s report reveal that systemic issues may be holding APD back from progress.
“APD is willing to go through almost any machination to avoid disciplining officers who violate policy or supervisors who fail to note policy violations or fail to act on them in a timely manner,” the independent monitor noted in their report earlier this year. “In some areas of compliance, we [the independent monitor] are required to make the same recommendations over and over because APD simply fails to address these recommendations in any way and refuses to implement processes of their own designed to achieve a reduction in unwarranted use of force.”
Compounding the issues are an outdated data management system at APD and a lack of department-wide data-sharing, according to the analysis by AH Datalytics. They found that APD collects lots of useful data, but doesn’t put it into practice.
APD’s “data systems lack a full and accurate representation of all APD activity and often collect data in a fractured or incongruent manner,” according to the consulting firm. “The lack of a data-driven culture creates barriers to compliance [with the court-approved settlement agreement].”
APD acknowledges some of the issues: “The antiquated and obsolete records management system in place since 2008 does present issues with analysis,” APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos told KRQE. While more modern systems can automate some tasks, APD’s current system requires users to manually gather data, he explains.
In addition to an outdated system, use of force data isn’t always shared with the public in a timely, organized manner, AH Datalytics found. As a result, APD has fallen out of compliance with some of the requirements of the 2014 court-approved settlement.
Part of the court-approved deal that APD struck with the DOJ requires APD to publish an annual report on the department’s use of force. Since 2014, APD has only published three full reports that collectively cover 2015 through 2019.
“The most recent report was submitted to the court in October 2020,” the AH Datalytics analysis reveals. Yet “we learned that the report was almost completed a year prior, by November 2019, and was seemingly on track to be published in a timely manner,” they wrote. But issues with data and personnel delayed the release of the report, which covers 2016 through 2019.
The report, besides being late, is “poorly organized and provides little assessment of the Department’s use of force,” according to AH Datalytics. Additionally, they found discrepancies between the annual use of force report and the data collected by the court-approved independent monitoring team.
“The most recent report provides data on use of force in the order spelled out in the CASA [court-approved settlement agreement] but provides little overarching context or analysis for better understanding the data,” according to AH Datalytics. “There is no executive summary for easy digestion of the report’s most important conclusions and data analysis does not begin until page 9 making the report challenging to digest.”
Still, notable progress is being made
To be clear, some progress is being made within APD. The most recent report from Ginger and the monitoring team reveals APD’s internal Force Review Board has taken a stronger stance against improper uses of force, “with some members increasingly willing to question the department’s ‘pattern and practice’ issues,” the independent monitor noted.
“We were highly encouraged,” the independent monitoring team reported. “And for the first time, believe there is hope the FRB [Force Review Board] can finally assume its rightful position in the system of oversight by setting an example for lower-level managers to follow.”
“The need for APD to develop its ability to ‘police’ itself is the centerpiece of its organizational reform efforts,” the most recent independent monitor’s report says. “It is the linchpin for achieving the long-term sustainability of those reforms.”
Thanks to both state and city funds, APD is also getting a technology update, as noted in the most recent city budget. APD got a new radio system, updated computer-aided dispatch, and an updated records management system. “That should significantly address the flow of data throughout the system,” according to AH Datalytics.
Spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos from APD says the new system is scheduled to go live by the end of this year. “The new system will allow for better and more helpful analysis of data,” he told KRQE. “Overall, APD does very well in collecting data and [we] are taking the necessary steps to better report on that data and conduct proper data analysis to make data-driven decisions.”
Combatting the delays in the last publicly available use of force report, APD has already published a preliminary report on 2020 data. “Despite the provisional nature of this dataset, in the interest of transparency and accountability it would be best to publish a report,” APD explains within the document.
The preliminary data shows an increase in force cases: “While calls for service have declined, force cases have increased steadily from 2016 to 2020,” the report says. About half of those cases resulted in an injury of some kind, but the the number of resulting hospitalizations has decreased.
How long will it take to reach full operational compliance?
While there’s no deadline for APD to reach full compliance with the 2014 settlement, the department must comply with all 276 measurable goals for at least two years if they want the DOJ oversight to end. Given that progress has not always been a forward march, it’s not clear when APD could reach that goal.
“It’s not looking good,” says Barron Jones, the senior policy strategist at the New Mexico affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-NM). “Needless to say, at this rate, if you take three steps forward and seven backwards, you’re never going to get through this. So this can be a multi-year effort,” says Jones, who has been involved with APD Forward, a community coalition advocating for police reform.
In a step toward progress, in spring 2021, APD changed leadership at both the police Training Academy and the Internal Affairs Force Division of APD. This year, a civilian was appointed to manage all the training curricula, according to APD. Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, says that better training is a key to reform.
“Bad guys are going to fight and they’re going to run and cops are going to have to chase,” Willoughby says. Police are “going to have to tackle them and use force. It’s just a reality of life, it’s not going to go away.” But, the DOJ settlement has helped put money towards more training, he says. “Some of our training is good, some of our training is not so good, but at least we get the training and access to reality-based training. That’s one of the positives.”
Despite changes in the Police Academy and investments in things like a new record management system, Willoughby says DOJ oversight isn’t going to end any time soon. “The reality is that we’re, I think, seven to eight years away from this coming to even a remote end,” he says.