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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Shoe Drops; Feds Announce APD Probe; What's The Political Impact? How We Got Here And Where We May Be Headed; Our Special Coverage, Plus: Say What, Susana? 

Mayor Berry
It's about time. That's the most common refrain we heard in the hours after the US Justice Department announced at a news conference Tuesday that it would investigate the use of excessive force by the ABQ police department.

Those who had been waiting for the Feds to make a move had a point. Even as the long-awaited probe was being made official, headlines were again screaming of the latest misadventure of one of ABQ's finest. And the news also blasted forth the latest dismal ABQ jobs report, reminding us that the police department isn't the only crisis that faces City Hall.

Fortunately, this latest APD incident wasn't a police shooting but there have been 25 of them since 2010--17 of those fatal. It was that bloodshed combined with a lengthy series of other abuses revealing a diseased police culture that prompted the Feds to come in. After years of shocking shootings and head-shaking incidents, it is clear Justice decided there were more than just a few bad apples at APD. And not a few cops also believe it, supporting a federal probe in a recent union survey.

(The statement of Assistant US Attorney General Perez is here. The Justice Department news release is here. Reaction to the investigation by relatives of police shooting victims is here. Reaction from ABQ Police Chief Schultz is here.)

The constant flow of unhappy news from the 1,000 member department forced us and others months ago to advocate for a Justice probe and also declare that the usefulness of Chief Ray Schultz--at the helm since 2005--was at an end and that he should be replaced. The plea to replace Schultz has been ignored by Mayor Richard Berry, but the questionable use of police power and authority that has plagued our city will not be ignored by the United States government. And that is how it should be.

THE POLITICAL IMPACT

In response to the official announcement of a civil rights probe of APD Mayor Berry was quick to say that he and Schultz have implemented dozens of changes and that they welcome the probe. Well, maybe, but politically the Republican Mayor has to welcome this investigation about as much as ants at a picnic. (The mayor's complete statement on the DOJ probe is here).

The investigation could take as long as two years, creating headlines that could play a major role in the 2013 mayoral race. Berry's popularity has been sky high but suddenly things look different. He presides over a Democratic city and this investigation could give a strong Democratic challenger just enough momentum to oust the incumbent.

The trouble for the Dems is far from relieved by the Justice probe. If they fail to unite behind one candidate, Berry could, as he did in 2009, again win. If the R's remain solidly behind him but two strong Dems or more split their party's vote Berry's path to victory remains clear. His problem? Berry must get 40% of the vote to take the race without a run-off. In a run-off with the top Dem vote getter he is likely to lose.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Schultz & White
When Mayor Berry took over we repeatedly warned that his decision to allow then-Public Safety Director Darren White to bypass the city's Chief Administrative Officer and exercise command and control over the chief of police was unprecedented and dangerous. Previously the Chief reported to the CAO. The City Council, Mayor and the mainstream media largely pooh-poohed the warning. White was later forced to resign and now the federal investigation. (CAO David Campbell resigned in part because he had been pulled from the APD power chain in favor of White).

By ceding control of the APD to his controversial Public Safety Director, Mayor Berry may have sent a signal to the rank and file officers that they had a very long leash. His decision to keep Chief Ray Schultz on the job when he took over--at the urging of White--is now one that Berry will be forced to answer for in the coming campaign.

For his part Schultz is using the federal probe as an excuse to stay on the job, saying to leave now would look like he was trying to get off the hook. (Don't worry, Ray. We'd get along just fine).

ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis, who broke with Berry last year and called for a Justice Department investigation of APD, says Schultz needs to go. Lewis will take over the presidency of the City Council next month, presenting another challenge for Berry.

When Darren White left the 11th Floor and the lines of authority were reestablished between APD, Mayor Berry and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, we looked for things to quiet down. They didn't. The warped culture that sent the department off the tracks continued, as did the repeated instances of officer infractions.

The Feds say this is a civil investigation, not "criminal." But one can lead to the other mighty fast. This kind of probe can also turn friend against friend. The Feds arrival here is also going to prompt requests for them to investigate other APD actions that are not the result of excessive force. For example, the circumstances in the aftermath of the death of noted defense attorney Mary Han.

We expect Darren White will be taking time off from his Downs at ABQ job to answer to a higher authority for the decisions he made. So will the array of deputy chiefs and others who enabled the culture of a police department that went so far astray.

It is not just Berry and Chief Schultz who shoulder responsibility for letting APD decline to its present disheveled state. The complicit ABQ City Council and the state Democratic Party are also culpable. Neither provided a check on executive power that could have led to department reform and perhaps meant fewer police shootings. The daily newspaper was also late in catching on, but came on strong when it finally came to the story. However, the steadfast refusal of its editorial pages to call for the resignation of Schulz may have contributed to the delay in cleaning up the mess. 

For the next year the Department of Justice will be the "shadow mayor" in ABQ. What they discover and how it's digested will play a major role in who becomes the real mayor in October of 2013.

A FINANCIAL HIT?

If Justice mandates reforms in APD, how much will they cost? Add what ever it is to the millions in lawsuits the police shootings are costing us. And don't forget all the cops who are retiring at the end of the year because of fear over changes in their retirement plan. We could drop below 900 officers at the end of the year. You might save money by hiring fewer officers, but you would then have to cover the deficiency through expensive overtime. And then there's the issue of response time that comes up with fewer cops on the force. And who will want to sign up for APD when it is under the federal gun? You're going to have to pay to attract top-notch recruits.

All of this comes as we digest the news that city tax collections for the first four months of the budget year put us on the path for having a $10 million dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year.

ANOTHER VIEW

Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein has contributed his views here on APD for several years. We asked him for some thoughts on the big story:

 When I saw Schultz and Berry standing with the DOJ at the press conference I thought "finally they are going to take responsibility and accountability for what has been going on at APD." Wrong.  Schultz should have clearly stated that he has been chief for 7 years and accepts 100% accountability for the DOJ investigating his department. Instead he makes it sound like he is a brand new chief who recently came aboard and is working to clean things up....Berry's job is to make sure the citizens are represented. The citizens expect him to hold city employeed accountable when things like this happen. I didn't hear any of that from Berry.  He did not hold Schultz accountable.  In fact I wonder why Schultz and Berry were even there as they fought for months to keep the DOJ out.  


Berry is showing a lack of leadership by not holding Schultz accountable. That will effect him in the upcoming election.  That is if he runs.  Could this end his campaign before it even begins?  If Berry continues to not hold Schultz accountable for his police department then he may not run in 2013. 

Finally from us on this story, a DOJ probe exposing the faults of the city's police department can't be good for our efforts to attract business--at least not in the short run. But if the investigation restores confidence and cleanses the department of its toxic elements, it will be very good for business in the long run.

SAY WHAT, SUSANA?

Are we missing something? In the wake of the defeat of Mitt Romney who failed to attract significant Hispanic support, Governor Martinez says, "she advised Republicans to craft “positive” instead of punitive ideas for immigration reform and drop the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric."

Has Martinez's rhetoric been "positive" when it comes to repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants? Was her rhetoric not "anti-immigration" when she successfully accused Allen Weh, her 2010 GOP Guv foe, of favoring "amnesty" for illegal immigrants?

Both of these points are ignored when Martinez is asked how the GOP can attract more Hispanic support.

Also, there is the question of Susana's own electoral success with Hispanics. There isn't much polling out there on how she did in 2010. One exit poll we recall had her getting 38% of the Hispanic vote, respectable but not epic. George W. Bush managed about 40% in NM in his 2004 election.

The Governor insists that it is the "tone" and the "rhetoric" that is driving Hispanics to the Dems. But what about policy. Changing that would mean accepting a compromise on the driver's license issue and reappraising her views on how undocumented immigrants already in the US can stay here legally.

"Tone" and "rhetoric" do matter, but it is what you believe and propose that matter more.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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