Reforming APD’s culture of violence requires radical change
The US Department of Justice's long-awaited report on its 16-month investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department's use of excessive, sometimes deadly, force was released on Thursday, April 10. The report—described respectively by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times as scathing, sharply critical, blunt, and damning—is a compendium of failures and inadequacy in the Albuquerque Police Department. By the time this editorial sees print, I have no doubt that APD/DOJ news fatigue will be setting in. But after at least a half-century of police violence in our city, these findings certainly bear repeating. In summary, the DOJ concluded the following:
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• Police officers used deadly force on individuals who posed no imminent threat to anyone but themselves, and officers' own recklessness often led to that use of deadly force.
• Police officers used force against individuals passively resisting, who posed minimal threat, and they used deadly force against individuals requiring medical treatment and with impaired faculties and those suffering from mental illness.
• Officers' supervisory reviews do not address use of excessive force, and force incidents are not properly documented.
• Officer-involved shooting investigations are inadequate, and internal review mechanisms are not implemented.
• The Department's training deficiencies and deficient policies contribute to the pattern or practice of unreasonable use of force.
• Under-use of crisis intervention contributes to the pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of force.
• The Department’s ineffective use of tactical deployments and its aggressive organizational culture contribute to the use of excessive force and incidents of such use.
• Limited external oversight of the Department and inadequate community policing by the Department contribute to the pattern or practice of unconstitutional uses of force.
Reading the above summary of the DOJ's official findings is a good place to start, but I urge all Albuquerque residents—who haven't already done so—to read the entire report at bit.ly/
It's my understanding that the term “negotiation”—frequently uttered by Mayor Berry of late—is code for “doing what the DOJ requires.” I've never been a victim of police violence. And my concern here is for the future of our city as a whole. The DOJ's “scathing, sharply critical, blunt, and damning” report on APD provides a theoretical, structural platform for institutional change. APD has a lengthy history of excessive violence and subsequent reform; these reforms have done little, if anything, to radically shift the culture of violence within APD. So let's say this time is different, and these reforms are genuinely taken to heart and seriously implemented by APD and its officers … What then?
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Being homeless in Albuquerque is still a crime. And while recommendations for enhanced accountability exist, where is the accountability for the time period from 2010 to 2014? Should we trust our current City leaders—particularly Mayor Berry, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and Police Chief Gorden Eden—to successfully implement necessary changes and foster a culture of accountability, nonviolence and collaboration with civilian oversight within APD? The lapel camera video of the James Boyd shooting was released because Eden believed the shooting was justified. If the Boyd shooting was initially and publicly deemed justified, are there other skeletons lurking in unreleased footage? I don't know about you, but I'd like to know.
Will officers involved in uses of force now deemed unreasonable and unconstitutional be indicted? And where does the blame lie? At this point, it doesn't seem to rest anywhere. Like a specter, it floats adjacent to City and APD leaders … without ever resting squarely on anyone's doorstep. A shameful culture of violence within APD has been brought to light once again; how does the City and APD plan to reform a culture that has routinely prioritized property crime, vagrancy and the like above the lives of human beings?
There is no place for Keystone Cops armed with deadly force in Albuquerque. Not anymore. As a young man named Donald Gallegos eloquently stated at a recent City Council meeting, “This is our town, and fascism isn't welcome here.” This is our home, and we need to clean house. Contact your elected officials and give voice to your concerns. While it's easy to forget this fact, our leaders are tasked with working for the people. Demand to be heard, and you will be. Participate in the dialogue with the US Department of Justice to promote constitutional policing and rebuild community trust in APD; you can do so by emailing email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org or calling a toll-free, bilingual hotline at (855) 544-5134.
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