There was a lot of hope and optimism in the courtroom Thursday as a federal court judge was told about how “the New Albuquerque Police Department” has fully embraced the reform effort that it signed on to more than three years ago.
But there was also a lingering anger over just how badly the “Old APD” had screwed its officers and the residents of this city in its three-and-a-half year effort to obstruct and kill the reform settlement agreement that it signed in November of 2014 with the U.S. Department of Justice.
That 42-month obstructionist effort has left the new APD and its command staff scrambling frantically to catch up to where it should be more than three years into the reform process. And, as APD has to pretty much start over in the process, there are worries that the money for the independent monitor in the effort might run out.
But first the good news and the optimism.
APD has drafted and submitted a compliance plan, and created a compliance bureau for the reform process. Compliance plans and bureaus have been a key to successful police reform efforts in other cities. The old APD – former Chief Gorden Eden and Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman and former City Attorney Jessica Hernandez – never took that critical first step despite being told from the start that it should have.
The independent monitor in the case, James Ginger, told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack that the old APD ignored his advice on that matter. The old “APD chose not to do that, against our advice,” Ginger told Brack.
And now, because the Old APD failed to develop the most basic of plans on how to comply with the settlement agreement, the new command staff needs an intense amount of technical assistance – help in putting the people and processes in place – in order to get on the road to compliance.
But that technical assistance will be redundant, and time-consuming, because it was given to the former command staff, which chose to ignore it. “For two years we gave them technical assistance, but it wasn't accepted or used,” Ginger told Brack.
So now, Ginger and his team will have to shift their focus for the next six months from grading APD on its reform progress to holding its hand and helping it build the human and procedural infrastructure to be able to comply.
It means that Ginger won't be issuing a seventh progress report in May as was originally intended. Instead, he'll issue tow mini-reports – in May and August - and file another regular, 500-page report in November.
But the status conference before Brack Thursday was overwhelmingly positive. Ginger and lawyers from the DOJ told Brack that APD had done an about-face in terms of its attitude towards reform and that it was now asking Ginger's team for advice.
Attorney Steven Robert Allen, policy director for the ACLU of New Mexico and a member of APD Forward, a coalition of groups and individuals that have pushed for reform at APD, highlighted the differences between the Old APD and the New APD.
“It seems like night and day, after three years of them playing games with us,” Allen told Brack. “It finally seems like the adults are in the room.”
Brack was also told that the New APD is embracing the idea of civilian oversight and the community policing councils that have been set up around the city.
There was another huge difference between the Old APD and the New APD at Thursday's hearing: Mayor Tim Keller showed up and addressed Brack. Former Mayor Richard Berry never showed at any of the court hearings in the case.
Keller told Brack that he campaigned on the reform issue, that he owned it and that he will be judged by the progress APD makes or doesn't make during his term in office.
Brack, who will be going on senior status this summer, said he had been thinking of handing the case off to another judge once he goes on semi-retirement, but decided to keep the case after meeting in February with Keller.
“I believe the mayor is ultimately responsible for the city's side,” Keller told Brack. “That's the way it should be.”
“You ran on this issue, you’re going to be judged on the success of this issue. You said, ‘I own this.’ With that kind of commitment level from you, I agreed to stay on.”