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Monday, April 14, 2014

How Did It Ever Come To This? Impact Of APD Crisis On City's Future Starts To Sink In, Plus: Assigning Blame For The City's Disgrace, And: Battle Possible Over Who Will Be APD Federal Monitor 

Albuquerque 
How did it ever come to this? The reality of what we are facing is only now setting in---millions of dollars to reform APD, many millions more to settle lawsuits, federal watchdogs overseeing the department for years to come, the terrible toll on the city's reputation around the globe and perhaps the loss of a promising economic future. Not to mention the devastating human toll. The Justice Department says many of those killed by police officers the past five years died needlessly.

Other cities have faced this. Detroit and Newark were both found by Justice to have runaway police cultures and federal oversight was mandated. But unlike Albuquerque those cities were already clearly defined in the national consciousness as failures. ABQ's identity is more blurry.

We are not a metro area of millions. We have been a slow grower--gradually entering the American mainstream. Curiosity about us was at its peak before the Great Recession as national media labeled us the next hot spot. Then the recession hit and the city went quiet. Then Justice hit and the city fell to the canvass.

Overcoming the millions of dollars worth of negative publicity we've received over the police crisis--combined with our lack of an economic plan for the future--will be like having a foot on our throat as we try to get up off the floor.

THERE IS BLAME

You can spin it a thousand times over, but you keep coming back to the same conclusion. The blame for this lies with those in power. Sure, Mayor Chavez can be criticized for how he handled APD, but to blame him for this mess is absurd. Here's the tell: When Mayor Berry took office he faced a big budget shortfall. He took action. He didn't say, "Well, my predecessor screwed up and there's nothing we can do. We have to live with deficits." He did his job and balanced the budget.

But in the matter of APD and the police shootings Berry did the opposite.  He did little or nothing. Even if he were handed a mess, he abdicated his responsibility to clean it up.

It needs to be said--for the sake of accuracy--for the sake of history--for the sake of the truth--that Mayor Berry did not do his job. He failed. He needs to be blamed and accept the blame. That's a fundamental tenet of democratic government.

This is not an editorial, an opinion or an axe to grind. Our Mayor had the power to shake-up APD and implement major changes but he repeatedly refused to do so and the shootings continued. He failed. That is fact.

Our elected city councilors also failed. Let's say it again. They failed. They did not do their jobs. They looked the other way. They should have marched on the 11th floor of City Hall and demanded change from the executive. Instead, we have marchers in the street after blood has been spilled needlessly and continuously for years.

Future generations will study and learn from these epic failures by the ABQ mayor and council. At least we hope they will.

NO KID GLOVES

The media (with the exception of the newspaper) no longer handle Mayor Berry with kid gloves. His insistence that he is now an agent for change remain unconvincing.

This statement from one of the two outside "experts" Berry brought in to help negotiate terms of a reform agreement with Justice is an example why:

"Everything is fixable,” Greenwood said, pointing out that APD doesn’t have corruption issues and criminal element problems. “It’s not going to require generational change.”

No corruption issues? No criminal element problems? Hello. Levi Chavez? Hello, Mary Han?

Is this already an effort to contain the reform? Sure seems that way. As one reader writes:

If Berry and the DOJ are BFF’s like Berry says, why does he need to waste our tax dollars on outside counsel? Shouldn’t City Attorney David Tourek be able to negotiate with DOJ? If Berry favors doing what DOJ wants as he says he is, can’t the city attorney handle this? Why are we spending this money? Shouldn’t we wait until negotiations are at an impasse before we shell out thousands of our dollars? Or maybe Berry and DOJ aren’t kissing cousins after all.

WHO WILL IT BE?

Our law enforcement experts and Alligators tell us if the city council--newly awakened in the wake of the DOJ report--really want to make a difference it needs to move quickly to involve itself in the naming of the federal monitor to oversee APD reforms.

That's exactly what happened in Seattle when Justice got involved with their PD. The city council there headed off a move by the city's mayor to stop the appointment of a federal monitor who he and the police department there did not find acceptable. Now it's our council's turn to make sure the mayor and police leadership that brought us this crisis do not have veto power over the monitor who is supposed to right the ship.

One of our Legal Beagles picks up the story:

Who ultimately becomes the federal monitor defines the climate of how DOJ's demands will be implemented. Mayor Berry obviously favors a softer hand while DOJ and the citizens favor a firmer approach. There is no playbook for how this is done and it has varied in each city. But Berry is already positioning himself to influence if not select the federal monitor. Since the city council has had such a laissez-fair attitude towards Berry's failures with APD are they going to let him control this process as well? If so, I expect we will see more of the same which has been window dressing and inaction which ultimately means DOJ will be here for a very, very long time. Things are far from clear.

2000 WORDS

David Correia is an assistant professor of American Studies at UNM who is a veteran student and critic of APD practices. He comes with 2000 words on the DOJ report on the department--including these:

The report ends with a list of 46 suggested remedies to APD’s pattern of “unconstitutional policing” but no explanation for how those changes will come about. Meanwhile, DOJ is in negotiations with Chief Gorden Eden and Mayor Richard Berry. DOJ got so much right in this report. But what they’re now getting wrong may undo all the effort that’s gone before it: DOJ, unfortunately, believes that the very people who created these conditions should be the ones who fix it.

WE'RE BUSTED

Our zeal (and that of many of our readers) to win strong federal oversight of APD led us to engage in a bit of hyperbole, says reader Oliver. He busted us with this missive:

Great coverage and sentiments on the APD issue. But respectfully, Joe, I think you are falling victim to some lack of perspective on how fundamentally local this issue is. In the past few days, you have written: Obama and Attorney General  Holder need to lead the city out of the wilderness. Really, they do? I doubt the President is even aware of the issue (he has much bigger fish to fry!) and I bet Holder is minimally aware, if that. 

A bad DOJ/City agreement will spell deep trouble for the White House. The White House? Really? APD is a *hugely* important issue for ABQ citizens but, come on, this is basically a Southwest cow town--we are not on the day-to-day White House radar!

AG Holder should have presented the agreement? Really? You think this rises to the level of an AG appearance? The country's top law enforcement official should be piddling around Downtown ABQ with Berry and his band of merry men? I think leaving it in the hands of a Civil Rights Division official was just fine--that's what staff is for.

Its important to step out of the day-to-day noise of our lives and keep things in perspective. In a nation of almost 350 million people, a police problem in a fly over town of 500,000 is a big, big nothing!

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