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Hypocritical Silence at the Police Oversight Board

Executive Director and Board Member Failed to Mention Their Votes to Approve a Use-of-Force Policy for APD

The revision of the police department’s Use of Force policy has taken many months. Disagreement regarding the use of language in a Supreme Court case involving police use of force (Graham vs Conner) has been strident. The Albuquerque Police Officers Association is determined to include language from the case that the Police Oversight Board (POB), many civilians and advocacy organizations identified as objectionable as well as claiming the language weakened a consistent, clearly understood and communicated policy.

The specific details of the Graham vs Conner language which are in dispute are not the subject of my comments. I am concerned that the problematic decisions and actions of a member of the POB and the Executive Director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) resulted in chaos in processing the Use of Force policy.

(Photo: Ed Harness.)

A brief overview of the how policy and procedures are developed at APD will be helpful to understand the issues. The procedures require a new or revised policy identified in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) be prepared by the APD Office of Policy Analysis (OPA). OPA then distributes the policy for public and internal departmental comment. OPA considers the comments and prepares an appropriately revised policy that is submitted to the Policy and Procedure Review Board (PPRB) for approval. If approved, the policy is given to the POB for a thirty-day (30) review and sent to the CASA monitors for review and approval. Once approved by the monitor the policy will be reviewed and approved by the Chief of Police.

June 14, 2018

The POB held a very well publicized and attended meeting and received numerous public comments with concerns regarding the OPA June 6 revised Use of Force policy 2-52. The POB urged APD to commit to using the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve its lawful goals and also strongly urged APD to abandon any attempt to incorporate the Graham material, giving the public reason to believe the POB would continue to oppose the Graham material.

July 10, 2018

OPA reportedly considered the public and POB comments from the June 14 meeting as well as others from the community and produced a Use of Force policy that was presented to the APD Policy and Procedure Review Board (PPRB). The PPRB approved the revised policy 2-52 on July 10. It is within the authority of the PPRB to make changes.

However, the approved policy re-introduced the Graham language that was previously vehemently objected to by the public and POB at the June 14, 2018 meeting.

What is troubling is that Bill Kass, the POB Policy and Procedure Subcommittee Chairman, and Edward Harness, Executive Director are both voting members on the PPRB and both voted in favor of revised Use of Force policy.

July 12, 2018.

Two days after the PPRB approval of the 2-52 policy, the POB had a board meeting. Kass provided a Policy and Procedures subcommittee report giving overview of involvement with use of force process and stating he has been attending monthly meetings. Harness delivered his report. Neither acknowledged the PPRB had approved the 2-52, and no copies of the new policy were provided to the POB members.

July 19, 2018

POB Policy and Procedure subcommittee meeting was chaired by Kass and facilitated by Harness who led a discussion on draft Use of Force policies 2-54 and 2-55. Neither acknowledged the PPRB had approved the 2-52 and no copies of the new policy were provided to the POB members.

August 9, 2018

The POB had a general meeting and the agenda and minutes do not reflect discussion of approved Use of Force policy 2-52 nor and was the draft provided to the POB. Sections 2-54 and 2-55 received public comments and concerns. Both Kass and Harness were in attendance but neither acknowledged the PPRB had approved the 2-52 and no copies of the new policy were provided to the POB members.

Although not mentioned in the minutes, Robby Heckman, representing APD Forward, mentioned that Graham language that was previously objected to was back in the approved 2-52 policy.

One board member later contacted Heckman and assistant City Attorney Jermay Schmehl and was sent a copy of the approved 2-52 policy.

August 16, 2018

The POB Policy and Procedure subcommittee and discussed the re-introduced Graham language in the approved 2-52 policy to determine if the subcommittee should recommend the approval of policy with the additional Graham language or should have a special board meeting to discuss the issue. Kass and Harness opined the language was OK and maintained their silence that they had voted to approve the policy at the PPRB meeting. The vote was to have a special board meeting.

August 24, 2018

The POB held a Special Meeting primarily to discuss, the PPRB approved policy some forty-four (44) days after it was approved. This prompts the question of compliance with the existing policy and procedure of a thirty-day review by and if the POB even has standing to ask for additional time for review.

APD was apparently under the belief that since Kass and Harness were on the PPRB, attended the meeting, heard the discussion, were aware of the newly added Graham language, aware of POB and many community member concerns about that language, and voted to approve the new use of force policy, that they would provide a copy of the policy to the POB therefore APD need not do so. Apparently not.

From the meeting it is unclear who provide the copies of the PPRB approved Use of Force policy 2-52 to the board members and when was it provided. It was very clear that neither Kass nor Harness had previously disclosed their votes to approve the PPRB policy and they had not apparently thought it necessary to immediately provide a copy of the PPRB approved 2-52 policy for the board to review during the thirty-day (3) review period of which they are both aware.

POB members were quick to express dissatisfaction with APD and the explanations of why the new Graham material was added and by whom.

The POB was not as quick to question the actions of their board member and the CPOA Executive Director. Not only their voting to approve a policy that the board did not favor and had not endorsed and then kept the vote from the board, but also why they did not provide immediate copies of the approved policy at the very next board meeting two days later.

So, what’s next?

If either Kass or Harness had provided the approved PPRB’s 2-52 UoF policy to the POB in a timely manner the thirty-day (30) review period could have been utilized and the special meeting could have been avoided, or at least called with full understanding of why it was needed and given public an opportunity beyond 3 days to participate. It would also not have demonstrated publicly the dysfunction of the POB.

The POB identified no plan to move forward or how or if the concerns re-expressed by the public at the meeting on the 24th will be considered as everyone rushes to meet the well-known September 21, 2018 court mandate?

Fostering mutual trust and cooperation between police and civilians is one goal of the POB and one of the minimum qualifications to be a member of the POB is “A commitment to transparency and impartial decision making.”

The question of transparency and trust must be addressed by the board to answer why their representative kept their votes from the board despite numerous occasions when that action would have reasonably have been expected. Holding APD accountable and not yourselves is slightly hypocritical.

The issue is trust and confidence. Trust amongst the board members, the POB and the public, and confidence of the City Council that the POB does not really need any independent evaluation this year as envisioned in the Police Oversight Ordinance.

Jim Larson is a former member of the Police Oversight Board.

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