No Agreement on how to Start Over
Four Years Wasted?
The federal court judge who is overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department's reform effort calmly ripped the effort's excruciatingly slow progress earlier this month by saying the parties to the reform agreement have to start over, but can't agree on how to start over.
The comments by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack were made on May 17 and were related to the inability of APD, the police union and other parties to the reform effort to reach an agreement on a new use-of-force policy for APD officers.
“We're approaching four years into the process, and what you're telling me is not only do we need to start over, but we can't agree about how we're going to start over and, if we don't have a policy, we don't have anything to train to and we can't see results in the field,” Brack said during a status conference in the reform case. “And I understand the problems that got us to this point, but we've...you know, as I've said lots of times, the public only cares about how the police are interacting with us on the street. And we've got to -- I'm concerned. I'm really concerned about any further delay in developing this policy.
“This is the linchpin. This is critical to the whole process. So I'm going to encourage -- that's in air quotes -- encourage you to get – get this policy established so that we can start training. I appreciate the fact that we are getting input from the amici and the stakeholders, you know, something that we should have been doing all along, perhaps, but we've got to make progress, folks.”
Read the transcript of the status conference here.
Brack's comments came after he was told by the attorney for the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, Fred Mowrer Jr., that the union objected to some of the city's and the DOJ's proposed rewrites of the use-of-force policy.
“The APOA has taken the position in objecting to many of the rewrites that the DOJ has submitted,” Mowrer told Brack. “So we have set a time line now where all the parties are going to submit proposals for discussion of the new Use-of-Force Policy. And I'm afraid, unfortunately, that is going to require modification of that paragraph because I can see a good deal of effort having to be put forth by the parties to address the DOJ's concerns.”
The independent monitor in the reform case, James Ginger, also said he was concerned about the inability of the parties to agree on a new use-of-force policy.
“I agree with Mr. Mowrer on his assessment of the work that lies ahead on use of force. It is reminiscent, eerily reminiscent, of the effort that we had the first time these policies came through. So I think, at this stage, based on my understanding of where the parties are, we have a lot of work to do to get to a document that can be agreed to by all the parties,” Ginger told Brack.
Ginger added: “So this, I fear, may be a very lengthy process. And it comes -- it comes at an inopportune time when APD is trying to get its training practices in harmony with that key policy. So in effect what we've done -- and I think the Court needs to be aware of it -- is, as we have difficulty with this Use-of-Force Policy, we postpone training efforts, which postpones seeing activity in the field related to the new policy. So this is not a bump in the road, from my perspective, it's something that's on the critical path for this process. And I'm probably as concerned or more concerned than anybody else about how that will work out.”
Retired APD sergeant Dan Klein said the real losers in the failure to develop a new use-of-force policy are the taxpayers and cops. “It's hurting the taxpayers' pocketbooks, and more directly, the officers in the field,” Klein said. “Because they are going to be hesitant to use force because they don't know what the rules are, and an officer should never be hesitant to use force when the situation demands it.”
Not all the news about APD was bad. Ginger said the department's relatively new reform effort Compliance Bureau was making good progress and that APD personnel were making “superhuman” efforts to get his team data they need from the department.
“They've really literally burned the midnight oil and they're doing everything they can do to make sure we get our data on time. It's just a very welcome major improvement over past practice,” Ginger said.
But Brack told Ginger and others during the status conference that he was tired of the delays.
“I feel like we're making progress, you know, under the new regime, but I'm going to have to insist that the progress be noticeable and brisk,” Brack said. “We've just been at it so long.”