Hot dogs are not the only things getting grilled during the midsummer in Dirt City. At their July 12 meeting, members of the Police Oversight Board had a few hot questions for the Albuquerque Police Department’s top brass.
The Civilian Police Oversight Agency’s Police Oversight Board is comprised of nine members appointed by the City Council for three-year staggered terms. Current members are Chair Leonard Waites, Vice Chair Chantal M. Galloway, Eric Cruz, Joanne Fine, Dr. William Kass, Valerie St. John and Chelsea N. Van Deventer. Board member Eric Cruz was not in attendance.
The CPOA/POB investigates police misconduct and makes findings regarding alleged misconduct. The existence of the CPOA is required under the US Department of Justice’s Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the city. Recently, questions were raised about the training of detectives after allegations of shoddy investigations surfaced.
Police Chief Mike Geier, along with Commander Paul Duran, answered questions about how the department selects and trains its detectives. Board members were talking about mistakes made by detectives during the investigation following the August 2016 murder and dismemberment of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. Apparently detectives believed the mother’s mind boggling sinister tall-tales and therefore did not rush testing the actual DNA evidence; when they did get around to it, testers discovered unknown male DNA from a killer who is still on the loose. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Victoria Martens,” Geier said.
Board members wanted to know what went wrong regarding the lapse in DNA testing and other problems with criminalistics. They also wanted to know what action can be taken in the future to ensure qualified detectives are on board to solve all crimes. Both Geier and Duran said the department is learning from this and other high profile cases that led to recent accusations of investigations being mishandled. “We are looking forward,” Geier said.
Déjà vu: Hearing APD brass say they are learning from their mistakes and looking forward is something that was repeated over and over by former administration’s brass, particularly in the Berry administration. But now, the public wants to know if crimes are getting properly investigated, and CPOA/POB wants answers to their questions.
Rumor had it that there were only five homicide detectives on the roster when the Victoria Martens case was being investigated in 2016, in a metro area approaching a million people, amidst many dozens of unsolved violent crimes. Duran said there are now 10 homicide detectives within the department. Both he and Geier said that there is no formal training path within the department for general, much less homicide detectives. It was a little confusing trying to figure out what the top brass were actually saying about how an officer can become a detective. But it sounds like officers could put their name out on a list to attend one of the few available trainings, or maybe if they knew someone on the inside they could get a leg up on a promotion.
Duran said that now APD is looking at new standardized practices and training for detectives. Officers chosen will follow a career-focused path starting as a general detective with less serious cases. As the officer learns the ropes, they would move on to working on more complicated and higher profile crimes. Duran said the department is considering asking some retired homicide detectives to return to the department. He said this would help with the heavy load of cases to investigate, and also bring some needed detective experience back to the department.
Board members asked how the department was doing, going through its years old backlog of use-of-force cases. The department has said it has a new system in place to make doubly sure its officers use a reasonable amount of force and only when necessary. One board member said they had been waiting three years for these cases to come to their table for review but have not seen any of the backlog cases yet. The report said APD has 315 use-of-force cases to review with only 34 of them currently getting any eye time. The department created a whole new compliance bureau to get through the bottleneck of cases, so that should be helping resolve matters. But department insiders say it is complicated and each case takes from 14 to 40 hours to review. A report on the progress of the backlog is due on Aug. 31 to US District Court Judge Robert Brack who is overseeing the consent decree.
One public speaker said the city is experiencing an epidemic in homicides. There has been, in fact, a recorded 50 percent increase in homicides to date over last year. And just about every morning there seems to be another person killed by another person in a bad way within our fair metro area. There have been 41 homicides so far this calendar year. In June, the city’s police department had 44,774 calls for service with about 840 sworn officers, but not all take calls. But more encouraging statistical news shows the number of rapes, auto, commercial and residential burglaries, robberies and aggravated assaults have fallen in number from this time last year.
In other crime stats discussed at the meeting of the CPOA, from July 9 through July 15, the city/county jail booked in 461 people from various law enforcement agencies in the metro area. The city/county jail has an average daily population of about 1,200.