Civilian police oversight is a difficult task at best. For us Burqueños, it is a required and important piece in the city’s Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice to have a strong effective form of civilian oversight. But for the better half of 2018 the agency and the board have been struggling to keep up.
For nearly six months Albuquerque City Councilors put off the official reappointment of Executive Director Edward Harness of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency. In addition, the Council has not filled vacant Police Oversight Board positions.
The CPOA/POB investigates civilian complaints against Albuquerque Police Department officers, excessive use-of-force cases along with policy review and other tasks. There are nine seats on the POB, with six currently filled and three vacant. And the City Council has not filled those vacant seats even though there have been about 70 applicants. This failure to act by the Council is making it hard on the all-volunteer board according to board members.
In May, the Police Oversight Board, made up of civilian appointees and to whom Harness answers to, unanimously voted to extend a new contract with a bonus and cost of living raise. Harness’ position pays about $105,000 annually. Harness was hired in 2014 after the DOJ investigation showed the Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force. POB members along with outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say Harness is doing a good job with a difficult task. The Council must now confirm the new contract.
A recent letter was sent by attorneys for the CPOA/POB—to the DOJ and city attorneys—about the City Council’s alleged stalling of Harness’ contract as well as not keeping POB position seats filled. The letter says these failures indicate troubling trends that could adversely impact the civilian oversight settlement agreement.
After nearly six months, the Council finally confirmed a three-year renewal of Harness’ contract at its Dec. 3 regular meeting. But it was not without some interesting twists. Apparently, Councilor Diane Gibson had some questions for Harness. This prompted three of the six POB members to speak as individuals, not for the entire board, asking to postpone the confirmation until the board could meet officially to address Gibson’s concerns. But Councilor Gibson said she had already spoken to Harness about her concerns and was now confident in reconfirming his contract.
Councilor Ken Sanchez, who voted the sole nay, gave a hint about possible concerns when he asked Harness about communication issues and timely reporting. Harness said that future reports will be submitted in a timely manner. Harness said there needs to be separate administrative support for the POB members as the case load for both the agency and the board is straining current staff. Sanchez also said he would like to see the ethnicity of the board match the population it represents.
Councilor Brad Winter, who has been at the Council table since 1999, helped craft the current police oversight ordinance, said the city is in a good place and confirming Harness’ contract keeps the city moving forward. The city risked being out of compliance with the CASA if it did not approve the reappointment by a Dec. 7 court hearing regarding police reform progress.
Part of the delay for the Council was that the POB also sent some major changes to the civilian police oversight ordinance for the Council to approve. These changes are out for public comment and you can check it out at cabq.gov/
In early November, court appointed reform monitor Dr. James Ginger gave the first positive report since the implementation of consent decree reforms in 2014. Ginger expressed continued frustration during the former Mayor Richard Berry administration and its bad attitude towards the reforms.
Ginger’s report says Albuquerque Police are in operational compliance with settlement agreement policies 59.2 percent of the time and when they are not supervisors are taking corrective action. But he did say there were still several persistent and evolving areas that still need to be addressed.
Mayor Tim Keller said he was happy with the progress saying when his administration took over the department was in a hole and in a place of mistrust and frustration. Keller has said that an important component is that all the stakeholders came together to craft a new use-of-force policy.
A public court hearing is set for Dec. 7 in front of US District Judge Robert Brack to update on the progress made. Here is a link to settlement agreement documents with the DOJ: cabq.gov/
Albuquerque Police currently number between 850 to 875 officers who answered 42,970 calls in September and 41,928 calls in October. Comparing January through November 2017 crime stats to the same time frame in 2018, the city has seen a decrease of 28 percent in auto burglaries, a 27 percent decrease in auto theft, an average 16 percent decrease in residential and commercial burglaries, 38 percent decrease in robbery and an increase of 38 percent in traffic stops. There have been about 59 homicides in Albuquerque proper and 10 Bernalillo County homicides to date this year with about half unsolved. There were 75 killings in 2017, the highest in several years. For some current crime stats plug in a zip code and check them out at crimemapping.com/.