Sixteen months into a court-monitored police-reform effort, the City of Albuquerque still has a long way to go. That’s the word from Paul Heidle, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico.
“We have a lot of respect for police officers, but there are some real issues with the police department and the reform policies that are happening right now,” Heidle told a January meeting of “APD Forward,” a community group actively endorsing and monitoring those reforms.
Heidle said there have been multiple reports now that the Albuquerque Police are dragging their feet on the reform process.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) was criticized in a report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in April 2014. The report found APD engaged in a pattern of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The report highlighted egregious examples and recommended reform measures to fix the system. In October, 2014, the city and the federal government entered into a “Court Approved Settlement Agreement” (CASA) that includes frequent monitoring by a third party observer.
APD Forward also formed in response to the DOJ findings.
Heidle emphasized that APD Forward is not against the police. It is simply working to make the community safer and the jobs of police officers safer as well.
“Without buy-in from the police department — and without continued pressure from us — those reforms aren’t going to stay implemented,” Heidle said. “It’s going to continue to be pressure from us — whether it’s as we select a new mayor, making phone calls to each one of our councilors, sitting down with the city councillors and telling them why this is important to us, going to the CPC (community policing counsel) meetings, and having our voices heard.”
The independent monitor’s reports are filed every 4 months and APD Forward provides an analysis of the reports on their website. The actual reports are available from the DOJ here. A full list of CPC meeting times and locations can be found on the City of Albuquerque website.
APD was not present at the January meeting of APD Forward. Contacted for response afterward, APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza emphasized that reforms are well underway.
“All 37 policies related to the (CASA) agreement have been approved and put into place,” Espinoza said. “It’s like building a house. The foundation is in place, the last thing we need is the interior decorating.”
Espinoza pointed to new training as an example of reforms now in place. APD officers are now required to undergo de-escalation and crisis intervention training.
“All of the APD officers have received 40 hours of training,” Espinoza said. “All officers receive five days of use of force training as well as three days of reality based training. It’s very practical.”
Espinoza says other programs are improving communication between the department and the community.
“APD has built an award winning social media presence, we’re communicating on a much more direct basis with Albuquerque,” Espinoza said. “People can reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter, where we can respond directly to the community.”
“CASA, I think, is something that’s a little abstract to the community,” Espinoza said. “You don’t get to see the day to day process.”