Alibi V.29 No.27 • July 2-8, 2020 

News Feature

Police Union Contract Extended Due to COVID-19

How should new contract reflect current focus on police violence?

/ CC BY-SA 4.0
The City of Albuquerque’s contract with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA), the union for Albuquerque law enforcement officers, is due to expire on June 30. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contract will be extended until the City Council can safely meet to vote on the contract’s renewal. A representative from the Mayor’s Office indicated that the meeting would likely be delayed until sometime in the fall.

The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the APOA has faced scrutiny for making it difficult to discipline officers who have violated use of force policies or had other instances of misconduct. The current contract allows 90 calendar days for the Civilian Police Oversight Agency to conduct an investigation, which is often not enough time to effectively investigate an instance of policy violation, according to Edward Harness, executive director of the CPOA. Though the CPOA can file for an extension to get 30 more days to investigate, more complicated cases can still require more time. Additionally, requests for an extension can be rejected. “We had a case where we had 25 officers and APD administrative staff interviewed … so that was very difficult to get done in 120 days,” Harness says.

In his discussions with Dr. James D. Ginger, the independent monitor reporting on APD’s compliance with the court-approved settlement agreement from the Department of Justice’s investigation into APD, Harness says that Ginger has stated, “‘best practices are at least 180 days.’ That’s what I want for the new contract. With room for more extensions if needed.”

Police union contracts are getting attention nationwide, as they sometimes thwart attempts to discipline or convict police officers who use excessive force or have other instances of policy violation. In some cases these contracts may discourage officers from making complaints against fellow officers for fear of retaliation from within the department.

For instance, the City of Albuquerque’s current contract with APOA states that, in the case of an officer receiving a complaint for misconduct or policy violation:

“The name of the charging officer, complainant, or citizen making the charge shall be disclosed if this information is known to the officer conducting the investigation … Disclosure of the complainant’s name will not be required if revealing his/her name jeopardizes the investigation; however, once the investigation is completed, the name(s) of the complainants will be revealed at the request of the officer who was under investigation along with a copy of the official complaint, signed or unsigned.”

Granting anonymity to officers and citizens who might make complaints against a police officer may help to protect them against potential retaliation, and thus encourage them to come forward with their concern.

AOPA’s contract is set to expire, but a delay will allow time to meet and properly discuss changes.
AOPA’s contract is set to expire, but a delay will allow time to meet and properly discuss changes.
Clarke Condé
Peter Simonson is currently the executive director of ACLU of New Mexico and since 2000 has led the organization to some of its most important civil liberty victories. Speaking on behalf of APD Forward, a community coalition led by concerned Albuquerque citizens, Simonson told the Weekly Alibi, “Ironically for the [police oversight agency], they’re denied knowing the name of the officer who’s being investigated. But no such courtesies are extended to the complainant. The CBA requires that the complainant’s name be shared with the officer in question … You have to think that at least some people are deterred from filing complaints against officers for fear of retaliation.”

Additionally, “At least on paper, the CBA denies the CPOA virtually all information that goes into that agency’s investigation. In addition to being denied the officer’s actual name. That strikes me as completely inappropriate. It creates another hurdle to police accountability. … The CPOA needs the opportunity to identify repeat offenders, and they can only do that if they know the officer's name.”

Another provision that has been controversial has to do with bidding. Every 12 months lieutenants, sergeants and patrol officers can bid for a different shift, days off, squad and area command. According to Thomas Grover, a former police sergeant and a local attorney with a specialization in policing and civil rights disputes, “When officers move around they lose the institutional knowledge they’ve gained over that time spent in that neighborhood. I spent eight years in the South Valley and I still get cards from vendors I had relationships with there.”

When asked what changes he believes the APOA might ask for in the contract, Grover said, “They’ll probably argue for better pay, but really the pay is pretty competitive, and honestly I don’t think raising the pay would encourage hiring the right kind of people for the job”

Though he does think the city should renew the collective bargaining agreement with the APOA, Harness believes the collective bargaining agreement could be cut back some. “I’m not sure that [the contract] needs to cover anything more than wages and working conditions … I’m not anti-union at all; I think they have a purpose. The scope, though, could be more limited.”

A representative from the Albuquerque Police Officers Association was unavailable for comment.

Indivisible Nob Hill bills itself as a local organization promoting “progressive political values through community action.” At a recent meeting sponsored by the group and focused on community policing, Dr. María B. Vélez, an assistant professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Maryland, pointed out that, “There’s ways you can give these oversight boards more teeth.”

That would require more work on the city’s part, however. “We only make recommendations [for disciplinary action]; the chief has the final say,” admits Harness. Giving the CPOA more power to enforce disciplinary decisions would require a rewriting of the Police Oversight Ordinance.

The Mayor’s Office has stated that, when the new APOA contract does get voted on, there will be space for public comment. Some are concerned, though, that waiting to vote on the new contract will effectively stall until police violence is not as widely talked about as it is right now. Simonson says; “I think it’s important that there is adequate time for the public to give input, but I don't want to see negotiations linger too long. I think we need to use this moment when the community is so aware of the need to strengthen police accountability and change the pattern of violence we’ve seen from police in communities all across the country to get a fairer CBA for the people of Albuquerque. We need to use this moment and make sure it works to the advantage of good policing. I worry that if we wait, police violence will not be the main topic of conversation anymore.”

In the meantime Indivisible Nob Hill encourages citizens to reach out to their city councilor and to CABQ’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair to urge her to stop the APOA contract until public input is received and integrated. You can reach Nair at saritanair@cabq.gov.

Kathleen Burke, a member of the Community Policing Council for the Southeast Command, encouraged citizens to show up to council meetings and make their opinions on these issues heard. “If you are a part of—or if you know somebody who is a part of—local groups like The Red Nation and Black Voices ABQ, please come to these meetings. The majority of people at these meetings are white and wealthy, or middle class.” Burke and others in the Indivisible Nob Hill meeting suggested that these councils should include the voices of people from the most overpoliced neighborhoods in the city.

Each Community Policing Council meets monthly to discuss concerns with policing practices in the city and to make formal recommendations for policy changes. You can find out more about the six Albuquerque Community Policing Councils and when they meet through cabq.gov.