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Reform monitor: "Sea change" at APD.

New attitude of cooperation at APD

Judge won't pursue sanctions against previous administration

There has been a welcome “sea change” in the attitude of APD's new command staff, and Mayor Tim Keller's administration, toward the police department's reform process with the U.S. Department of Justice, the independent monitor in the case, and others, told a federal court judge last week.

(The reform monitor, James Ginger, says there is a new spirit of cooperation at APD.)

And while that new attitude of cooperation and willingness to reform APD is welcome, it will take time to get the police department's new command staff up to speed on the reform process, the monitor, James Ginger, told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack during a Jan. 18 status conference on the case.

(You can read the transcript of the status conference here.)

In that regard, Ginger asked Brack to be allowed to file two mini-reports about APD's progress toward complying with the settlement agreement between now and May 31. Ginger and others told Brack that APD is working on a new process on how to deal with use-of-force incidents by officers.

And Brack told the parties to the city's settlement agreement with the DOJ that he will not pursue sanctions against members of the former administration who secretly recorded Ginger at least a dozen times.

(U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack said he will not pursue sanctions against the previous administration for secretly recording the monitor at least a dozen times.)

“I'm letting you-all know I have no interest in looking back. My shoulder's to the wheel and my hand is on the plow. I am looking forward with all of you and I have no intention of pursuing sanctions against the prior administration,” Brack said during the status conference, “and I certainly don't think the successor administration has any accountability on that score. So this is a -- this is a public hearing, I know. I'm glad for that information to be out.”

It was the new administration's willingness to cooperate with the DOJ and Ginger that was the focus of the status conference.

“We've had, quite honestly, I'll characterize it as a 'sea change' in relationships between the monitoring team and APD command staff over the past three days,” Ginger told Brack during the hearing. “The issue that we have is, just like with the original APD command staff, there's a huge lift involved in these processes in bringing the new command staff up to speed with the requirements of the CASA.”

Attorney John D'Amato, who represents the Albuquerque Police Officers Association in the reform case, echoed those comments.

“We're excited and concur with the direction the City and DOJ have taken,” D'Amato told Brack. “Dr. Ginger spoke of a 'sea change.' It is apparent at almost every level, Your Honor, and we're excited. We're looking forward to some successes here.”

Use of force process

APD is now in the process of revamping its process of investigating use-of-force cases, Ginger and others told Brack. The current process has been criticized as time-consuming and unworkable by APOA President Shaun Willoughby. He has said that a relatively simple use-of-force case, like tackling a fleeing suspect, can take officers and their supervising sergeants out of the field for several hours.

The revamping of the us-of-force process, and getting the new command staff up to speed will take time, Brack was told. DOJ attorney Luis Saucedo told Brack that he supported a proposal to modify Ginger's reporting schedule to the court.

“The United States is supportive of this proposal because of the work that will be needed in the next few months,” Saucedo told Brack. “The parties are working collaboratively to hit the reset button here. And what the City is undertaking in the next several months is revamping its use-of-force process. And we think that the entire process and the goals we've set out as part of this CASA will be furthered if we suspend and have a shift in the monitoring approach from one of simply assessing and reporting to doing more technical assistance up front by Dr. Ginger and his team.”

Brack was also told – as he has been many times – that under the previous administration, the city and APD weren't really interested in complying with the settlement agreement the city signed with the DOJ in late 2014.

Assistant City Attorney Jeramy Schmehl told Brack that the previous administration had no real implementation process.

“The first realization we came to was that there wasn't any thoughtful planning or a thoughtful approach to accomplishing the objectives in the settlement agreement,” Schmehl told Brack. “I think that's most -- most evidenced or most obvious by the fact that there is not an implementation unit to even address the challenges raised by the settlement agreement. There wasn't a multi-disciplinary approach to any of those issues or concerns.

“And so I explain that simply because that was shocking -- quite frankly, was shocking because the mentality was simply to look at tasks when they were thrust upon the City and the Department and then really sort of fumble around, and nothing was done, unfortunately. I can say that -- hopefully, not too bluntly -- that was pretty much the culture and the approach to reform previously.

“Now, the new administration, with the City and with the Department, the approach is that this is our job. And this is our -- these are our tasks to accomplish.”

As evidence of the new attitude at APD, Ginger cited the fact that new police Chief Michael Geier and members of his command staff attended a Jan. 17 meeting of the Northeast Area Command's Community Policing Council.

“Well, we had the CPC meeting last night. And first of all, I have to say that virtually the entire command staff was present at that meeting. And that's the first time in my tenure here that I've seen a strong representation at a CPC meeting by APD command staff,” Ginger told Brack. “The chief was there. Most of the deputy chiefs were there. All but one, I'm informed. And that marked a sea change. And you know, some small things add up to really, really big things in the grand scheme of things.

“And the fact that Chief Geier brought his command staff to that meeting and made himself and them available to the CPC members was important. It was incredibly important. In the past three years, I can only recall one time when the former chief showed up at one of those meetings. So to me, that was a major indication of a sea change and really exhibiting an understanding of how modern policing works and integrating the policing process with its community. So I took that as a watershed event. Every, every indication I get from this new administration – and I've spoken with the mayor on down -- is that they are absolutely committed to community outreach, community involvement, and listening to what the community has to say.”

Brack said he appreciated the new attitude at the city and APD.

“I really appreciate everyone, everyone's willingness to take a fresh look into and to "reset," as we keep overusing that metaphor,” Brack said. “I appreciate the pronouncements that I've seen from Mayor Keller and the evidence of good faith and a really willingness to make this process work for the betterment of the City and the people of Albuquerque, as evidenced by the chief's appearance at the meeting of the Community Policing Council last night. Those are all just -- we're off to a great start.”

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