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Friday, April 11, 2014

Court Enforcement Of Strong Agreement Seen As Key To APD Reform; Justice And ABQ Sit Down; Optimists Look For Major Reform; Pessimists Fear Delay And Weakness; Justice Gets High Marks For Findings, But Scored For Lack Of Clarity For Remedy; Berry Does The Bob And Weave 

For the nation it may have been scathing but the findings of the US Justice Department that APD has repeatedly violated the Constitutional rights of citizens and needlessly slain many bordered on the anti-climatic. The crisis has been playing out before us for four years like a nightmare that goes in slow motion. Many immediately jumped to the next question: What is going to be done about it?

The optimists (and many legal observers) say that it won't be long before the city and Justice enter into a court-ordered reform agreement overseen by an appointed Federal Monitor similar to what has happened in Seattle, Detroit and other cities with troubled departments.

The pessimists--having seen APD reform efforts unveiled and then left to gather dust--fret that Justice--even with court backing may be stonewalled as has happened in other cities that have had DOJ involvement. They also chided Justice for an overly conciliatory tone toward Mayor Berry, even though that may be a ploy to save face for Berry who must now negotiate an agreement.

They also said Justice did a poor job at its news conference in explaining exactly what they were pursuing as a remedy. It left many confused. Justice said it "often retains" a Monitor.  But that's not the same as "we will retain a monitor." By the end of the day media was reporting with more certainty that Justice intended to negotiate a court enforced Monitor agreement with the city, not a "gentleman's agreement."

And others wondered where was Attorney General Eric Holder? Why didn't he make the trip to ABQ and explain with clarity and force just what the department means and what it wants?

As commentator Gene Grant framed it:

"Something has to happen where folks feel APD is not correcting itself."

Here's how the DOJ describes its future relationship with the city:

The Department of Justice will monitor any agreement that results in our agreements {with the city}. We also often retain the services of the independent monitor to provide expert assistance and level of accountability and reassurance to the community that reforms are being implemented,” said Jocelyn Samuels with the DOJ.

Correct and bureaucratic? Yes.  Easily understandable and having force? Not so much.

WASHINGTON REACT

Rep. Grisham
On the optimistic side is Dem US Sens. Heinrich and Udall:

We hope that the city of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice will continue to cooperate in good faith with the involvement of the community, and that they will work swiftly to develop a comprehensive court-enforceable plan to improve safety, protect citizens' constitutional rights, and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the public.

And ABQ Dem US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham:

After being briefed by the DOJ, I am confident that we are headed toward a court-enforced consent decree with strong federal oversight to ensure real reform of Albuquerque’s police department. 

The DOJ’s conclusions are extremely serious, and the city should immediately agree to all of the recommendations in order to begin to restore the community’s trust in the Albuquerque Police  Department.

HOW IT WORKS

Ralph Arellanes of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) explains where we are at in the APD-Justice process:

The USDOJ will pursue a "voluntary" consent decree. If the APD were to cooperate with 100% of the corrective actions the USDOJ recommends, then it would become a court ordered consent decree and it would be monitored by the courts. If the APD does not agree with or voluntarily accept the recommended changes mandated by the USDOJ, then the DOJ would file a federal lawsuit against the APD and the courts would then mandate the consent decree and monitor APD's compliance of the consent decree. 

This is the civil part of the investigation. Some of these cases have been referred to the criminal division of the USDOJ for criminal proceedings. That said, the community must remain vigilant and engaged.

HOW LONG?

DOJ Presser (Aranda--Daily Lobo)
Observers say it is not unusual for lengthy negotiations to take place between Justice and a city in order to arrive at a court monitored reform agreement. It could take months. (Say it isn't so).

They also say it is not the Justice style to be confrontational and that this is a long term game, with the Feds here for many years. Still, that did not stop the critics from assailing Justice for being too "chummy" with a Mayor who has presided over the undoing of APD.

This was a severe report on APD and anything less than a court-backed Monitor would seem a cop-out, but Berry, CAO Perry and APD can be expected to fight for a weak agreement.

As we said above, Justice on Thursday seemed to be giving the Berry administration some cover to get on board by emphasizing how cooperative everyone has been thus far. If the two sides can't keep it together their disagreements would break out into public via the courts, with Justice suing the city to force it to reform the department. (If it really means business).

Then there are all of those who lost loved ones in the fatal police shootings. Justice and the Mayor keep talking about moving forward, but there were many calls for Justice to launch criminal probes into more of the shootings in the aftermath of the Thursday news conference. That, they said, would be true accountability.

KLEIN'S CORNER

Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein checks in with this:

I listened to the DOJ press conference again and they state that APD only has 836 sworn officers!  We are now down almost 300 officers and falling fast. Chief Eden better revamp the structure of APD fast and get everyone as a 911 first responder or there are not going to be enough officers working the field.

Another law enforcement observer told us that some of the Justice reforms seem pretty generic and boilerplate. He wondered if the police slaying of homeless camper James Boyd that recently caused a national uproar may have had Justice rushing its report.

BERRY'S TURN

Mayor Berry followed the Justice Department news conference with one of his own and brought along Chief Eden. Berry danced around the most penetrating questions like: Do you take responsibility for the APD implosion?

It was a vanilla performance in reaction to one of the biggest black eyes ever given to the city of Albuquerque and it brought out his critics, including Dem political strategist Alan Packman who was an aide to Berry mayoral challenger Pete Dinelli in last October's election:

Berry continued to show what a disaster his handling of APD has been. Instead of addressing the DOJ issues directly, he came out in full spin mode. When does the spin stop and the solutions start? On the day when the rest of the nation is reading about how his department is totally out of control, he continues to play political games, blame former Mayor Chavez and do everything except take responsibility for what happened. All politics aside, this is his worst day as a leader of this city.

Berry repeatedly referred to a "spike" in police shootings in 2010 and how the fatal shootings have slowed the past three years. But the police killing of James Boyd that sparked street protests demonstrates that the cultural disorder at APD has not faded.

THE OPTICS

 (Adolphe Pierre-Louis--Journal)
It was mostly bureaucratic gobbledygook--no passion, no human element really noticeable in the Justice and Berry news conferences. Lots of political two-stepping.

Thanks to ABQ police union president Stephanie Lopez we got a look at the human side as she delivered an emotional TV interview, pledging ABQ police would try to to do better--much better.

She was regretful about the place we are in and she gets an Alligator medal for taking ownership of something no one else will.

WE CAN DO THIS

There's no question that our police officers have it in them to make the changes needed. Look at this news:

Officer Tasia Martinez says officers responding to a 911 call about a man threatening suicide and shooting a gun found him in an alley near a store and still armed with the gun. According to Martinez, the man pointed the gun at himself as officers approached but they were able to persuade him to put the gun down. He then was taken into custody.

We don't have the names of those officers, but we're sure Chief Eden will give them the pat on the back they richly deserve. Yes, APD can be a community-friendly department. Well done, fellas.

ALLIGATOR ANALYSIS

How will the negotiations between the City and Justice go? Alligator analysis: 

Will the negotiations start as a cooperative effort then bleed into an adversarial dynamic? The real question is how aggressive will DOJ be in the event they have to compel ABQ to perform. The news conference by DOJ tells me they will not be very aggressive because they aren't now. There is nothing at all that suggests this administration will do anything in support of real reforms or real accountability because they have not done anything for the last four years. Their tactic is delay, delay, delay and avoid accountability.

And a final Alligator strike:

Only in a bureaucracy do you hear anyone say that a police department has a lack of oversight and ineffective policies and at the same time it says it wants to continue discussions with the same ineffective department heads.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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