ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After a US Department of Justice investigation found that the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional use of force back in 2014, the City of Albuquerque entered a settlement agreement to reform the department. Now, APD is entering its seventh year of oversight under the agreement — and the seventh year of paying millions for oversight.

A review of the city’s checkbook shows that the city has paid more than $8.5 million for court-approved oversight. The funds, paid in monthly sums ranging from $66,623.92 to $133,504.25, have been made out to James Ginger, who runs Public Management Resources, Inc (PMR), an independent oversight company. On top of that, there’s additional costs of implementing oversight-recommended changes as well.

Story Continues Below

From July 2018 through June 30, 2019, APD spent more than $3.5 million on settlement-related oversight and requirements, which was about 1.8% of that year’s budget for APD. Data from CABQ.

Ginger and PMR were chosen by both the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Albuquerque back in 2015. They appointed Ginger as the independent monitor tasked with reviewing APD’s progress and deciding when APD has met the requirements of the 2014 settlement.

At tens of thousands to over one hundred thousand dollars per month, what is the city getting from Ginger? So far, PMR has generated 12 in-depth progress reports, showing where APD has — and has not — improved. Each report compares APD’s progress with 276 individual goals laid out in the 2014 settlement. Each report is several hundred pages long and can be found on the DOJ’s website. PMR has also generated multiple data analyses of APD’s use of force as well as additional reports.

Part of what makes these reports so costly is the experience PMR and Ginger boast. Ginger has decades of experience working with law enforcement administration. His resume, submitted to the DOJ, shows that he started out as a police officer in Indiana in 1969. By the late 70s, he was a professor of criminal justice in West Virginia. In the 80s and 90s, he moved into policy, working with the San Antonio Police Department, the Southern Police Institute in Kentucky, and the Police Foundation in Washington D.C.

Ginger has also been an independent monitor before. He monitored the reform of the New Jersey State Police, which began in 1999. That reform process lasted for about 10 years, before the police were in compliance and able to remove DOJ and independent monitoring oversight. At the time, New Jersey spent around $33,000 a month paying for monitoring, according to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety budget.

The business of monitoring

Across the country, several law enforcement agencies have entered into this type of monitoring, called a consent decree, according to reporting done by the Associated Press. And cities pay a wide range for their consent decrees. Ferguson, Missouri, for example, entered a consent decree in 2016. The city budgeted several hundred thousand dollars a year for monitoring. Much of those funds, of course, came from tax revenue.

“The monitoring industry, it’s a cottage industry,” Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association (APOA) told KRQE. “If me and you were making $200,000 a month, what would we not do to continue making that income? So, Albuquerque is just stuck in this pickle.”

KRQE recently reported that the US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is working towards ensuring that monitors minimize cost to taxpayers and remain accountable to the public. That includes putting a five-year limit on how long an independent monitor can retain power over law enforcement without a chance to show progress. But, those changes apply to new consent decrees, not existing ones.

So for now, Albuquerque continues to pay while APD has, by some measures, backslid on the department’s reform goals. To date, the city has likely paid more than $25 million for all of the consent decree costs, including monitoring, travel for education, psychologists for behavioral health, and APD staff, according to data provided by APD.

Does the oversight work?

When it comes to the success of police oversight, police unions and advocacy groups don’t always see eye to eye. In Albuquerque, the leader of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, a union that reportedly represents roughly 97% of APD’s rank and file, says oversight does not work, either here in Albuquerque or in other cities across the country. Meanwhile, a key voice for local advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, believes oversight works.

“It has been proven time and time again,” says Barron Jones, the senior policy strategist at the New Mexico affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-NM), “places like Delaware and some other states have implemented reforms and what they have learned through those reforms is that they actually not only make the community safer, but they end up leading to less violence.”

Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, gives the exact opposite answer: “From Seattle to Portland to Chicago to Las Vegas to Florida to Pittsburgh to Ohio, I haven’t seen any success stories. And I believe the the blueprint for what the DOJ is doing in Albuquerque is faltered,” he told KRQE. “I don’t believe that it works anywhere in the country.”

Academic research on the topic is also somewhat mixed. After the implementation of oversight for the troubled Los Angeles Police Department of the early 2000s, Harvard University researchers concluded that public satisfaction rose, the frequency of serious use of force violations fell, and the oversight did not hinder the police’s ability to do their jobs, despite some officers voicing the contrary. A 2019 study published in the journal Justice Quarterly found that DOJ investigations can reduce civilian deaths at the hands of the police, particularly when an independent monitor is also used. But a 2014 paper published in Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society concludes that given the myriad factors affecting oversight — including police leadership, funding, and community support — there’s no clear-cut answer as to whether or not consent decrees bring meaningful change.

Is APD “handcuffed” with bureaucracy?

When a community undergoes DOJ reform, says Shaun Willoughby from the police officers’ union, “all it does is raise crime, handcuff your cops, and and not allow us to do the job of policing in a community.” The disagreement over how reform should work was highlighted by an Albuquerque Police sergeant during a recent city news conference on Albuquerque crime efforts.

“[Police reform has] gotta be smart, it’s gotta be intelligent, it’s gotta be workable,” said Sgt. Sean Kenny. “It cannot be where we literally do this – [Kenny gestures as if raising a gun] – and that’s 12 to 16 hours I’m stuck at my desk doing paperwork. That’s not the answer.”

In 2021, homicides reached a record high. But is APD really being prevented from fighting crime due to the rules of DOJ reform? In an effort to assess the question, KRQE News 13 analyzed data comparing how many violent crimes were reported to APD versus how many reported violent crimes cases lead to charges.

The number of violent crimes APD charges each year has been on a downward trend since the 2014 settlement with the DOJ, data reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows. In fact, since the settlement, APD’s violent crime clearance rate — the number of crimes APD charges divided by the number of crimes reported — has been below the pre-settlement average. This shows that it’s possible that APD is having trouble charging criminals. But the clearance rate was dropping even before 2014, so the settlement may not explain the trend in APD’s declining crime clearance rate.

Story Continues Below

Interactive slider: APD has been clearing fewer crimes than average, but that trend began before the settlement, so it’s hard to tell what impact the settlement has had. Note that crimes are not necessarily always charged in the same year they are reported. Data from FBI UCR.

When it comes to property crimes, clearance rates generally decreased after the 2014 settlement, FBI data shows. That could suggest the settlement has hindered APD. But a similar decline happened back in the early 90s, long before the settlement. And APD has recently pointed out that they’ve been somewhat successful in reducing property crime over the last few years, even with the DOJ oversight.

While some, including the police union, point to the city’s crime as evidence that the settlement is hindering APD’s ability to protect the city, KRQE News 13’s analysis suggests there’s not enough data to draw clear conclusions.

Violent crime reports did increase from about 4,325 reports in 2013 to over 7,500 reports in 2020, which is the most recently available data. To dig deeper, KRQE News 13 ran a simple statistical analysis on the data. The goal was to identify whether or not APD’s clearance rate (their ability to charge people with crimes) was affected by the settlement.

KRQE compared APD’s clearance rates from 1986 through 2013, the extent of data available from before the 2014 settlement, to post-settlement data, from 2015 through 2020. The analysis showed that, on average, during years without DOJ oversight APD’s violent crime clearance rate was roughly 49%. That is, roughly half of the crimes reported to APD led to charges. In the years with DOJ oversight, on the other hand, APD charged an average of 34% of the crimes reported to the department.

That could suggest that DOJ oversight might have hindered APD’s ability to charge people with violent crimes. But the analysis cannot prove that the 2014 settlement is the cause of the decline in APD’s performance. Given the limitations of the data, and the fact that there may be many other factors affecting APD’s clearance rate, the results should be taken with a grain of salt. (See reporter’s note at end of story for additional details on KRQE’s data analysis process.)

The settlement, however, clearly has had some effects on the department. In a news conference this September, APD Sgt. Kenny pointed out that officers are leaving the department due to the settlement. And policy changes have brought more bureaucracy than before.

Police cite paperwork and protocol as barriers to enforcement

Shaun Willoughby from the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association says that APD officers are willing to make reforms, but cannot do so given the policies laid out by the City of Albuquerque. The policies, he says, go beyond what’s required by the original settlement.

“We’re not afraid of training. We’re not afraid of reforms. We’re not afraid of change,” he says. “The reform effort — the policies that Albuquerque has chosen to hold us accountable to — do not work. We do not possess the staffing. We do not possess the ability to complete them successfully, and Albuquerque has a right to choose policies that are more effective and take into account the job that police officers do.”

One example Willoughby gives is the requirement that APD treat show of force events — when a officer shows a weapon but does not fire it — as “Level 1” uses of force. “Level 1” uses of force also include things “likely to cause only transitory pain” or discomfort, according to APD’s operating manual.

Under APD’s operating procedures, supervisors must visit the scene of each force event and complete documentation of each “Level 1” use of force. To do so, the supervisor must watch the officer’s body cam footage, compile written statements of how the event unfolded, make a list of evidence and witnesses, write an analysis of potential tactical mistakes, and provide a documentation of policy violations. The supervisor must also make a reasonable effort to get information from all witnesses. For people that have already left the scene, the supervisor has to get their contact information and reach out to them. The supervisor will also call for a Crime Scene Specialist to come document the scene where the use of force occurred.

On top of that, APD is supposed to call an External Force Investigation Team member and Internal Affairs Force Division detective to the scene where the use of force occurred. They are supposed to arrive within one hour of the call. These investigators look over the scene again to check for additional evidence. They also check that the officers and supervisor involved have completed their paperwork.

All of that is supposed to be completed within 72 hours of when the supervisor visits the scene of the event. Once that is completed, the whole report makes its way up the chain of command until it’s checked over by leadership and the Performance Review Unit.

“It takes weeks to complete, and it’s a waste of time,” Willoughby says. “The settlement agreement doesn’t require it, but our policy does.” To some extent, this is true: The original settlement does not include specifics on how APD must handle shows of force.

To get APD into compliance with the settlement, Willoughby says that the city and APD need to pair-down the requirements to the key points mentioned in the original agreement. “Police officers feel handcuffed, they can’t do their job. They’re completely paralyzed by overanalysis, and it just simply doesn’t work,” Willoughby says.

Barron Jones with ACLU-NM and APD Forward, a community coalition advocating for police reform, disagrees: “No, it doesn’t hinder their ability to do their police work,” he told KRQE. “We need to remember why we’re here. And why we’re here today is that the US Department of Justice found that there was a pattern of practice of constitutional violations that resulted in people losing their lives or suffering great bodily harm.” So while some APD officers may feel that the oversight is hindering policework, that’s “just something that we can’t buy into because these are life-saving reforms,” Jones says.

Reporter’s Note: KRQE conducted both simple binary-variable linear regression analysis and t-testing on APD data submitted to the FBI. Using data from 1986 to 2020, we examined the expected effect of DOJ oversight on the rate of cases APD cleared each year. In the article, we stated the results should be taken with a grain of salt, or skepticism. That’s because the data we’re comparing is from two different time lengths, the clearance rate is an estimate because crimes may not necessarily be cleared in the same year they are reported, and there are likely other confounding factors that impact APD’s ability to charge crimes, such as annual funding, staffing, and COVID-19 protocols. As a result, it’s possible that an alternative statistical analysis might provide different results, particularly given additional data. KRQE News 13 has requested additional crime data from APD, but they have not yet fulfilled that request.

Our analysis showed that the difference in the rate of cases cleared before the settlement and after was significant at a fairly high level of confidence (i.e. a p-value of 0.001). This means that the difference in the average rate of violent crimes charged before and after the settlement is probably not due to chance. Rather, something likely caused a decline in APD’s clearance rate. But the analysis cannot prove that it was the 2014 settlement that did so.