Report finds lack of oversight for use of force by Albuquerque Police

Amid ongoing efforts to restructure the Albuquerque Police Department, a report filed by an independent monitor Friday said the department has failed to appropriately investigate use of force among officers.

The 352-page report — the third produced by court-appointed monitor James Ginger — said the department lacked oversight from superior officers and needed improvement.

“Across the board, the monitoring team has found that the components in APD’s system for overseeing (and holding officers accountable for) the use of force, for the most part, has failed,” the report said.

Ginger’s team said the department’s SWAT forces had improved at de-escalating standoffs. But the report, the first since the police implemented a restructured use-of-force policy in January, still critiqued the state of attempts to minimize violence and review possible officer misconduct.

The monitoring team, which includes former police officials, particularly took issue with a case in which an officer allegedly kneed a suspected car thief in the head, knocking him unconscious. The monitors said that after the incident in October 2015, the supervising officer delayed in filing a report about the event until more than two weeks later.

Responding to the report’s findings, officials said the time-frame of the review — which commented on reform efforts from December 2015 to March 2016 — excluded recent months, when they said new policies had been implemented.

“It’s really important to remember and make clear that he’s reporting on how investigations were being done before any of the training was in place,” Albuquerque city attorney Jessica Hernandez told the Associated Press.

Since the new use-of-force policy was implemented, the department says it has provided 40 hours of retraining for all of its approximately 1,300 officers. The new policies includes directions on how “to respond to situations involving people in mental health crisis.

Even before protests in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, drew national attention to use of force by police departments, officers in Albuquerque came under scrutiny for the city’s rate of fatal police shootings. Between 2010 and October 2014, 23 people died in 37 shootings involving officers.

In April 2014, following an investigation that began in November 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report alleging that Albuquerque officers routinely used excessive force and violated citizens’ constitutional rights.

“What we found was a pattern or practice of systemic deficiencies that have pervaded the Albuquerque Police Department for many years,” Jocelyn Samuels, who at the time served as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said at a news conference the day of the report’s release.

More than six months later, in October 2014, the Justice Department announced it had reached a settlement with the City of Albuquerque to restructure the police department through a series of court-enforceable reforms. Both parties subsequently agreed to appoint Ginger to assess the effort’s progress.

Noting the efforts of the department to fix the problems highlighted in each investigation, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden described the restructuring as an ongoing process. “We’re fully committed. Every time the monitor has called us and said ‘I want to suggest this,’ we’ve taken those suggestions seriously,” Eden told the Albuquerque Journal.

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