On Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller did a press conference along with his newly appointed Police Chief and command staff as they stood alongside him to talk about the work ahead of them to reform the Albuquerque Police Department.
(Photo: Pete Dinelli.)
Before Keller discussed his plans for APD, he announced that he had a few apologies to make. And while some have criticized Keller for making those apologies, he did the absolute right thing.
An apology for City Hall’s failure to bring down our high crime rates and the “culture of aggression” and the unnecessary use of force found within APD has been long overdue.
To be perfectly blunt, an apology for the destruction of one of the finest police departments is something the previous mayor and his chief never had the political backbone or courage to do as they refused to take any responsibility for our rising crime rates.
The previous mayor and chief would never admit just how much they let this city and the victims’ of crime down.
And to be clear, Keller isn't on an “apology tour,” as some critics say. He spoke for about three minutes before handing things over to Geier. It wasn't a grand pronouncement followed by a communal whipping. Keller's remarks were sort of informal, and they struck the right tone for this city and its residents.
Here's what Keller actually said:
“I’m a believer in community policing, and that includes one of the pillars of community policing, which is about truthfulness with the public. And in that spirit, I want to start by offering an apology on behalf of City Hall to our community. Our community deserves an apology for its historical tone at the top of the department and a culture of excessive force that has hurt our community.
“I also want to tell the victims of families who have been hurt by unnecessary use of force that I am sorry, and that we are sorry as your city government. We will work every day to restore trust in our community.
“Secondly, we also need to apologize for our skyrocketing crime rates. I have heard from hundreds of folks who don’t feel safe and who worry about their families every day. And I want to acknowledge to all the victims of crime in this city and to all the families who have fallen victim to crime that we have let you down in many ways. Public safety is a critical function of government, and we must do better and it starts with owning up to that today.”
A few days after Keller's press conference, Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) President and APD Police Officer Shaun Willoughby claimed his membership were upset that Keller had apologized to the citizens’ of Albuquerque for APD’s “culture of excessive use of force,” and claimed his phone had been ringing non-stop from angry cops since the apology.
Willoughby went on to say that the Mayor’s apology was a “global apology” or a blanket apology for all use of force by the rank-and-file police officers, which it was not.
Willoughby was not even at the press conference and did not hear the words spoken by the mayor.
Willoughby also claimed that the rank-and-file officers felt “discredited” by the mayor.
Willouby apparently suffers from political amnesia on a few levels.
It was the Department of Justice, not Mayor Keller, who discredited APD four years ago when it did an investigation of APD and found a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression” within the department.
In the last eight years, there have been 41 police officer involved shootings, and the city has paid out tens of millions of dollars in settlements for police misconduct cases and excessive use of force and deadly for cases.
Three years ago, the DOJ investigation resulted in a settlement with mandated reform measures that included a complete rewrite of APD’s “use of force” and “deadly force” policies.
What is downright laughable and embarrassing is when Willoughby said on camera:
“It’s important to understand that the APOA is not a political organization. I’m actually employed by the cops that we serve. … I don’t think that the APOA having discontent is wrong or reminding anybody that we felt that, that was dishonorable to apologize for a group of police officers.”
What truly is dishonorable is Willoughby’s political motivations and he has forgotten the union’s involvement in the last election.
If APOA is not a political organization as Willoughby claims, it had absolutely no business endorsing anyone for mayor.
The police union endorsement in many respects politicized APD even further.
Willoughby also forgets that Keller is an employee of the City of Albuquerque and has taken oath to serve and represent all citizens, and not to just promote the APOA union agenda.
Willoughby is the same union president who had no problem with the union paying $2,000 to police officers who were placed on administrative leave after a police involved use of deadly force incident and before the killing was determined “justified”.
Willoughby also did not like the fact that the District Attorney brought criminal charges against police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez for the shooting of homeless camper James Boyd.
Recently, Willoughby said that Perez was acquitted of the murder of James Boyd which was not the case, as that the jury could not reach a verdict and the District Attorney decided not to retry the case. That's not the same as an acquittal!
Willoughby apparently feels the citizens who pay his salary are not entitled to any sort of apology for the actions of members of his union who are found to use unreasonable force, or unjustified excessive use of force or unjustified deadly force.
THAT UNION ENDORSEMENT
The police union had no business endorsing any candidate for mayor in the last election.
Under normal circumstances, union endorsements are common place, but when it comes to the Albuquerque Police Department, it is a department in crisis, and for the first time in its history is under a Department of Justice consent decree.
The APOA understands full well the consent decree in that the police union leadership, including Willoughby, has attended and has sat at counsel table during court hearings and federal monitor presentations.
The union leadership was at the negotiating table for the full year assisting in the drafting of the “use of force” and “deadly use of force” policy.
The APOA has made it clear that it does not like the DOJ consent decree nor the mandated reforms.
The police union and its leadership feels that the mandated reforms under the consent decree are interfering with rank-and-file officer’s ability to performing their jobs.
During the November 16, 2017 status conference before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack on the monitor’s sixth report, Willoughby told the court that the use-of-force and deadly force policies that he helped draft are unworkable and that “his” officers were having difficulty with the mandated reforms.
Keller’s acceptance of the APOA endorsement will no doubt be brought up during union contract negotiations and the union will argue that Keller wants to fully support the salary demands of the police union.
The APOA endorsement is one that Keller should not have sought and one he should have said no thank you to, and I hope a lesson has been learned.