Since 2014 Albuquerque has been under supervision of a federal monitor resulting from DOJ finding that the department was characterized by a “culture of aggression,” that lead to numerous rough arrests, dozens of officer-involved shootings and several costly civil lawsuits . On July 1, 2016 an article by the Associated Press claims: “Albuquerque police failed in use-of-force reviews. A federal monitor says the Albuquerque Police Department has struggled to adequately review use-of-force cases, while the SWAT units are doing a better job of de-escalating stand-offs and other high-stress situations” The report filed in federal court by monitor James Ginger described a police department still falling short with supervisor oversight and use-of-force policies, despite an overall commitment to reform. “Across the board, the monitoring team has found that the components in APD’s system for overseeing (and holding officers accountable for) the use of force, for the most part, has failed,” the report said. “Mistakes or misconduct led to reporting failures, delayed investigations, and the loss of potential evidence, including key statements.” The 352-page report from Ginger’s team is its third for the Albuquerque Police Department. It reviews the department’s reform efforts between December and March. According to the monitor department’s tactical teams — including the SWAT unit — “is one of the strongest within the department, with officers training regularly on how to de-escalate crisis situations with the least amount of physical force necessary. The result has been fewer deaths and injuries in incidences involving the units, Ginger said.”
See full agreement at: https://www.cabq.gov/mental-health-response-advisory-committee/documents/court-approved-settlement-agreement-final.pdf
See findings at: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2014/04/10/apd_findings_4-10-14.pdf
I. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
While officers may be required to use force during the course of their duties, they must do so respecting constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures. For too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility. Despite the efforts of many committed individuals, external oversight is broken and has allowed the department to remain unaccountable to the communities it serves. Based on our investigation, we find that the department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force during the course of arrests and other detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Section 14141. We find this pattern or practice in the following areas:
(1) Albuquerque police officers too often use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. To illustrate, of the 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012, we concluded that a majority of these shootings were 2
(2) Albuquerque police officers also often use less lethal force1 in an unconstitutional manner. We reviewed a random sample of the department’s use of force reports completed by officers and supervisors between 2009 and early 2013. Our sample consisted of over 200 force reports. We find that officers frequently misused electronic control weapons (commonly referred to by the brand name “Tasers”), resorting to use of the weapon on people who are passively resisting, observably nonthreatening but unable to comply with orders due to their mental state, or posed only a minimal threat to the officers. Officers also often used Tasers in dangerous situations. For example, officers fired Tasers numerous times at a man who had poured gasoline on himself. The Taser discharges set the man on fire, requiring another officer to extinguish the flames. This endangered all present. Additionally, Albuquerque police officers often use unreasonable physical force without regard for the subject’s safety or the level of threat encountered. Officers frequently use takedown procedures in ways that unnecessarily increase the harm to the person. Finally, officers escalate situations in which force could have been avoided had they instead used de-escalation measures.
(3) A significant amount of the force we reviewed was used against persons with mental illness and in crisis. APD’s policies, training, and supervision are insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respects their rights and is safe for all involved.
(4) The use of excessive force by APD officers is not isolated or sporadic. The pattern or practice of excessive force stems from systemic deficiencies in oversight, training, and policy. Chief among these deficiencies is the department’s failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system. Force incidents are not properly investigated, documented, or addressed with corrective measures. unconstitutional. Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.
We found only a few instances in the incidents we reviewed where supervisors scrutinized officers’ use of force and sought additional investigation. In nearly all cases, supervisors endorsed officers’ version of events, even when officers’ accounts were incomplete, were inconsistent with other evidence, or were based on canned or repetitive language. The department has also failed to implement its force policies consistently, including requirements that officers properly document their use of force, whether by lapel cameras, audio tapes, or in reports. The department does not use other internal review systems, such as internal affairs and the early intervention system, effectively. These internal accountability and policy failures combine with the department’s inadequate training to contribute to uses of excessive force. Additionally, serious limitations in the City’s external oversight processes have allowed many of these deficiencies to continue unabated. As a result of the department’s inadequate accountability systems, the department often endorses questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers. The prior criminal history and background of individuals who are the subject of police force also typically receive greater scrutiny than the actions of officers. These practices breed resentment in the community and promote an institutional disregard for constitutional policing. For example, in a 2011 civil trial involving the shooting death of Andrew Lopez in which a state court found that an officer used unreasonable force, the City’s expert, a training officer, testified that the officer’s actions were “exemplary and that he (the expert) would use this incident to train officers on the proper use of deadly force.”
The court concluded that the deadly force training provided to APD officers “is designed to result in the unreasonable use of deadly force.”4 We found other examples of similar praise or approval by police supervisors in force investigations we reviewed.
We recognize that the department started to institute some preliminary reforms to address our concerns before the conclusion of our investigation. However, the recent remarks by the police chief in response to the James Boyd shooting on March 16, 2014, demonstrate that more work is needed to change the culture of APD.5 It is imperative that the department continue to build on these reforms and improve its training, recruitment, and internal review mechanisms. The failure to take meaningful remedial action places residents at risk of excessive force and promotes a culture of unjustifiable aggression that further alienates the department from the communities it serves. Making constitutional policing a core agency value and building systems of accountability to carry out that value will support the many APD officers who strive to and do uphold their oaths. This, in turn, will engender greater trust and confidence in APD from the community.
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Higgins v. City of Albuquerque, No. CV-2009 0915 (N.M. 2d Judicial Dist. filed on Aug. 19, 2009), ¶67.
4 Id. at ¶66. 5 On March 21, 2014, APD Chief Gorden Eden told reporters at a news conference that the force used against James Boyd was justified after officers responded to reports that an individual was camping illegally in the Sandia foothills. The Boyd shooting is under criminal investigation and is not addressed in this letter. Dan McKay, Camper Turning from Officers When Shot, Albuquerque Journal, Mar. 22, 2014, available at http://www.abqjournal.com/372844/ news/video-camper-turning-away.html.
From the agreement:
1. In November 2012, the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into APD’s policies and practices to determine whether APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141”).
2. As part of its investigation, the Department of Justice consulted with police practices experts and conducted a comprehensive assessment of officers’ use of force and APD policies and operations. The investigation included tours of APD facilities and Area Commands; interviews with Albuquerque officials, APD command staff, supervisors, and police officers; a review of numerous documents; and meetings with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, residents, community groups, and other stakeholders.
3. The City and APD cooperated fully during the investigation and provided unimpeded access to documents, facilities and personnel. The Albuquerque community, APD officers, and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association also played a critical role in facilitating a thorough investigation.
4. On April 10, 2014, the Department of Justice issued a public letter to the City outlining its findings and recommending remedial measures. The Department of Justice found 7 reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force. The Department of Justice determined that although most force used by APD officers was reasonable, a significant amount of deadly and less lethal force was excessive and constituted an ongoing risk to the public. The Department of Justice also determined that systemic deficiencies contributed to the pattern or practice of excessive force, and these deficiencies relate to numerous operational and structural areas of APD, including hiring, training, policies, supervision, discipline, management, and oversight.
5. While the City does not concede the accuracy of these allegations, the City joined with the United States in a collaborative effort to promote the goals of this Agreement. Following the release of the Department of Justice’s investigative findings, the Parties engaged in extensive community outreach to solicit recommendations and ideas on reform. This Agreement reflects the broad input that the Parties received.
6. This Agreement is effectuated under the authority granted to the Department of Justice under Section 14141 to seek declaratory or equitable relief to remedy a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or federal law.
7. This Agreement is not intended to limit the lawful authority of APD officers to use objectively reasonable force or otherwise to fulfill their law enforcement obligations under the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of New Mexico.
8. This Agreement shall not be construed as an admission or evidence of liability under any federal, state, or municipal law including, but not limited to, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nor is the City’s entry into this Agreement an admission by the City, APD, or any officer or employee that they have engaged in any unconstitutional, illegal, or otherwise improper activities or 8 conduct. The Parties acknowledge the many APD officers who have continued to work diligently and with integrity to maintain high-level, quality service; to ensure officer safety and accountability; and to promote constitutional, effective policing.
9. This Agreement shall constitute the entire integrated agreement of the Parties. No prior drafts or prior or contemporaneous communications, oral or written, shall be relevant or admissible for purposes of determining the meaning of any provisions herein in any litigation or any other proceeding, except for the Department of Justice’s April 10, 2014 investigative findings letter.
10. This Agreement is binding upon all Parties hereto, by and through their officials, agents, employees, and successors. If the City establishes or reorganizes a government agency or entity whose function includes overseeing, regulating, investigating, or otherwise reviewing the operations of APD or any aspect thereof, the City shall ensure these functions and entities are consistent with the terms of this Agreement and shall incorporate the terms of this Agreement into the oversight, regulatory, investigation, or review functions of the government agency or entity as necessary to ensure consistency.
11. The Parties recognize that APD began taking steps to ensure greater accountability and supervision in response to a June 2011 report issued by the Police Executive Research Forum and both before and after the Department of Justice’s release of its April 2014 findings letter. The Department of Justice further recognizes that certain APD policies and practices are consistent with generally accepted policing practices and should continue as set forth below to ensure that performance is maintained or improved in order to meet the overall goals and objectives of this Agreement. Among the measures that APD has taken are extensive use of on-body recording systems and the provision of behavioral health training to a large 9 majority of its officers. In addition, the City has chosen to eliminate the Repeat Offender Project within three months of the Effective Date.
Report: Albuquerque Police Failed in Use-of-Force Reviews: http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-07-01/report-albuquerque-police-failed-in-use-of-force-reviews