Alibi V.28 No.13 • March 28-April 3, 2019 

Council Watch

The Council and the Police

Ordinance governs oversight board

The Albuquerque City Council in action
The Albuquerque City Council in action

Maybe it was the planet Mercury going retrograde that inspired one citizen to sing for the Albuquerque City Council during its special meeting held March 21. Councilors were meeting to discuss amendments and hear public input on updating the Civilian Police Oversight Ordinance. Not quite sure how the song fit into the amendment discussion but since the orator had a decent voice, it made for a curious few minutes during the nearly two-hour special meeting.

Who? What? Why?

The city’s police oversight ordinance governs how the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and Police Oversight Board functions. The CPOA is an independent agency, not part of city government. The agency also has an executive director and a civilian police oversight board. The police oversight board investigates complaints against Albuquerque Police Department officers, in particular excessive use of force cases, along with policy review.

The POB also makes discipline recommendations to the chief of police. There are nine seats on the POB. There are three seats vacant and the Council has come under a bit of scrutiny for not filling the available seats. The police department has about 900 sworn officers. The amended ordinance proposes to give the oversight agency .08 percent of the police department budget annually, or about a million bucks, to operate with eight staff members that include investigators, an analyst and administrative support.

Having a functional police oversight ordinance is not a luxury. It is required by the 2014 consent decree with the US Department of Justice after the city’s police department was found to have a pattern and practice of excessive force, including a string of officer involved shootings that cost the taxpayers many millions of dollars, and irrevocably damaged families on all sides of a shooting.

Some of the amendments approved give the civilian oversight board more teeth by giving them subpoena power to view raw data such as documents, videos, audios, interviews and any other pieces of information the board may need to investigate civilian complaints about police uses of force. It also adds more autonomy for the board, and asks that the police chief respond within 30 days if he or she does not agree with disciplinary recommendations.

Public Support

While there was not much public comment other than the singing guy, the regular angry guy and a couple others, watchdog groups spoke up, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and APD Forward. Peter Simonson, executive director for ACLU-NM spoke for both his organization and for APD Forward. Simonson said overall, both groups were happy with the proposed ordinance and its new subpoena power teeth.

Taking Its Time

City Council and its subsequent committees have been messing around with amending the current version of the city’s civilian police oversight ordinance since June 2018. It has moved through various committees, amended and postponed for even more amending. Councilors did not confirm the reappointment of Edward Harness until December 2018, a delay of nearly six months. There are still vacant seats on the POB. Councilors have said they will fill those seats once the amended ordinance is in place.

How Blue Are You?

A couple of long overdue police department annual use of force reports for 2016 and 2017 were released this week, giving us a glimpse into department doings. These annual reports are mandatory as part of the DOJ consent decree. These were filed late obviously. Some of the highlights of the two years’ worth of reports include: APD officers answered about 450,000 calls in 2016 and 480,000 calls in 2017; during these two years, show-of-force incidents rose 35 percent while use-of-force incidents remained consistent. Show-of-force is when a weapon is displayed but not used; use-of-force means an incident where a weapon of any type is drawn and used or an officer puts his or her hands on a citizen.

The reports showed an increase in use-of-force with unarmed citizens. Fewer people were injured in 2017 but more of those injuries required hospitalization.

Native Americans make up less that 5 percent of the city’s population yet they were involved in about 15 percent of the use-of-force cases. Hand techniques such as grabs, strikes, kicks and other “distraction methods” were the majority of use-of-force cases. Critical firearm discharges at subjects tallied at five for 2016 and nine in 2017. The reports show an increase in the use of electronic control weapons like tasers.

There were 40 SWAT deployments in 2016 and a big jump in 2017 to 77 SWAT team activations. Police officers sent their trained dogs in just over 1,000 times in 2016 and again in 2017. Male citizens ages 20 to 49 are the most likely to be engaged in any use-of-force incident. For more interesting data check out the entire report at documents.cabq.gov/police/reports/use-of-force-annual-report-2016-2017.pdf .

What’s Next?

The Council approved nine amendments and will take up some others and engage in a bit more debate on the proposed oversight ordinance amendments. There will also be another opportunity for the public to voice opinions at its regular meeting set for April 1 at 5pm in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers, City Hall. The meetings are streamed on Channel 16 and on GOV-TV.

You can watch government in action on April Fool’s Day, and that is no joke.