APD report reveals systemic failures in police reform

APD logo and art courtesy of NMPBS

By Ludella Awad / NM News Port

An independent monitor overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department’s reform process concluded that police reform efforts have failed and aren’t likely to improve until APD “shoulders its burden” to take responsibility for violations of policy and training.

In the Monitor’s Twelfth Report released by court-appointed monitor James Ginger, the 356-page account found “ systematic failures,” officers not reporting use-of-force incidents or misconduct, and “instances in which supervisors and command staff simply fail to ‘notice’ serious violations of APD policy.”

Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico , said failures of leadership and supervision continue to be a challenge for the department.

“There are failures happening at all systemic levels,” Simonson said. “One of the things the monitor talks about is identifying various places in the department where he sees signs of a ‘counter CASA’ effect.”

CASA is short for Court Approved Settlement Agreement, the deal made in 2014 between The City of Albuquerque and the U.S. Department of Justice, designed to ensure constitutional policing.

The city entered into the agreement after a DOJ investigation concluded APD had a pattern and practice of excessive use of force.

Simonson seized on Ginger’s findings, saying it’s clear the police department has shown all-out resistance to reform efforts.

“It’s going to take a lot more than simply rhetoric to change APD,” said Simonson. “We’re talking about an entrenched culture that is rejecting this reform.”

In September, former Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier told New Mexico News Port that Mayor Tim Keller forced him out of the job despite Geier’s efforts to implement reforms.

But city leaders and ranking officers in APD are pointing a finger of blame at Geier.

Sarita Nair, the city’s chief administrative officer, blasted Geier’s leadership, saying the report concludes that officials made the right move to replace Geier.

“These findings are simply unacceptable at this stage,” Nair said. “We took swift action right at the top of the department and got to work cleaning up what was left behind.”

Interim Police Chief Harold Medina also criticized his predecessor for failures in the department.

“We’re at a point in the reform process where we have to make the tough decisions about holding people accountable if we are truly going to change the culture at APD,” Medina said. “Mayor Keller did that when he addressed the number one criticism in this monitoring report. He replaced the failed leadership at the top of the department.”

In his monitor’s report, Ginger pointed to APD’s recent culture surveys, completed in two sets — in February 2020 and July 2020. The comparison found little change over six months.

“Most troubling was the finding that nearly 25% of officers surveyed indicated that APD’s work is not positively impacting citizens in the community,” Ginger said. “This perception, by a significant number of officers, suggests a lack of belief in current APD policing practices to positively impact the communities they serve.”

Nair said the department can expect a renewed push for reform under fresh leadership. The city is currently recruiting for a new chief of police.

“Any real reform effort will be long and challenging,” Nair said, “but the department is back on track with a renewed energy and commitment to getting this work done.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Simonson’s are calling for more top-down pressure on the city. As a recent Albuquerque Journal article reports, they are sending “amici” letters to the federal judge demanding the city be held in contempt of court over its six-year failure to implement police reforms.

Ludella Awad is a reporter for New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @LudellaAwad or by email at nmnewsport@gmail.com