APD Circus Starts With Ringmasters

The Alibi cover, designed by Bradford, for my story the Alibi didn’t run. 

March 9, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Federal Monitor Dr. James Ginger, who is responsible for overseeing the progress of the Albuquerque Police Department’s implementation of 277 specific agreements in the DOJ Report, found many problems in which the APD was non-compliant. Here is the following article that never ran in the Alibi, exclusively on the Noodle. It keeps getting better as you read on, so read the whole thing:

by Eva Avenue

It has been more than a year since the city got handed the 46-page DOJ Report, wherein the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice had investigated the Albuquerque Police Department’s internal affairs against negative accounts from the community, after public outcry over the James Boyd shooting in the foothills and amidst the past 42 officer-related shootings since 2010. The DOJ consolidated its findings into a written report with recommendations for how to stabilize the system.

People wonder if substantial civil advancement will come of the Justice Department’s findings at a time when, as stated in the report, fatal confrontations with individuals experiencing mental health crises continue to cause significant public concern over the department’s ability and willingness to consider the safety and well-being of the individuals in distress.

After the DOJ report, the 106-page consent decree came out between the federal government and the city of Albuquerque agreeing the APD will deliver police services that comply with the Constitution, and that an independent Monitor, Dr. James Ginger (a “nationally recognized expert on police reform”) will oversee implementation of recommendations in the consent decree.

“They killed so many people in such an extreme way that it got to be a huge embarrassment,” civil rights attorney Ray Twohig said. “It got to be known that this department - not just known but well-understood - that this police department was extraordinarily violent and, it often happens when there are public demonstrations about things, something a of a public relationships nature has to be done to make it looks like its all going to be alright, and this is what this agreement is.”

Twohig, having worked with the APD for the past forty years, has read through the report and the consent decree, and said there’s no structure of justice to keep this system of agreement in check - in a sense, no one to protect the people - and thus is all a big conflict of interest, and so it’s not designed to succeed in the long run. As far as a timeline goes, the consent decree states that the City shall endeavor to reach full and effective compliance with the written agreement within four years of its effective date. It was officially released as of April 10, 2014, though it was signed on November 10, 2014, so that’s when time starts to count. So the APD must aim to implement all its recommended changes by November 10, 2018.

“I think its unique the federal court will enforce anything about this agreement, but they may and that’s because only the Justice Department and the City can ask them to do so — and I don’t think they will,” Twohig said. “When we get the Monitor’s report, are we getting meaningful information about whether there’s been a change or are we getting a bunch of public relations and statistics? Hard to say.”

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Attorney Ray Twohig has worked with the APD for the past four decades.

Whether or not there’s compliance with the consent decree is going to be decided by the DOJ people and the US attorney, who is part of the DOJ, Twohig said. And it’s important to mention that while the agreement is meant to prevent excessive force on citizens, citizens aren’t granted power to enforce it.

Paragraph 344 (last paragraph in the consent decree): This agreement is enforceable only by the parties. No person or entity is intended to be a third-party beneficiary of the provisions of this Agreement for purposes of any civil, criminal, or administrative action. Accordingly, no person or entity may assert any claim or right as a beneficiary or protected class under this Agreement.

“In other words, though it’s meant to prevent excessive force on citizens, citizens have no real say. They’re not able to enforce it,” Twohig said. “They talk all about citizen involvement, citizen roles, citizen introspection, but none of it involves enforcing the agreement. There is no representative of the people.”

In the DOJ Report, it states 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. 


The APD  has been corrupted over time from within, and this is happening in departments all over the US. But an institution doesn’t become a failure overnight, former APD sergeant Thomas Grover said. 


“You get yellow flags before you get red flags,” he said. “The behavior of your lower-ranking officers happens because it’s endorsed by their supervisors either directly or by indirect actions such as not doing anything about it, and it absolutely flows from the top down.”

 

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Thomas Grover tells an urban camper to move along while on bike patrol.         Photo by Karen Mazur

“Pure Indifference” At The Top

In Albuquerque, it’s the mayor’s call.

According to Grover, change would have to start with the mayor and the police chief. He said the mayor has more than enough power to mandate changes, and that if he says his hands are tied because of the Union or because of some law, that it’s “bullshit” — the City Council moves at the whims of the mayor.

“It’s pure indifference that has let this department get to where it is, that led to poor policing,” Grover said. “Pure indifference.”

Layers of bureaucracy obscure responsibility, he said.

“You want to fix the department?”Grover said. “Get rid of the chief, get rid of the mayor…get rid of the the command staff, hold Schultz accountable….make sure that there’s clear accountability upfront and then you’ll see accountability flow from within. The DA has finally woken up and sees what’s been going because now even she’s been targeted by this administration…. You still have to provide good fundamental training at the Academy, but I’m not so sure that’s going on right now under its current leadership, a guy by the name of Joe Wolf.”

Wolf has since resigned as of February 13, 2015. Lieutenant Mike Archibeque has taken over the position until a new hire comes in.

Because there is no accountability, the heat of public outrage falls to the officers, and they’re getting hit as well as from within the department. This brings to mind a link between police officers and nurses in the way they carry the burdens of their professional field.

Matthew Sexton, who works with interrelations between members of groups/institutions, made a conceptual discovery after offering to train nurses at Presbyterian Hospital to better handle the pressures of their job. Everybody wants to train nurses, his nurse friend told him. The same way everyone wants to train officers.

“Officers and nurses are the working point of the system — the hands of the enforcement system and medical care system and they are also on the bottom of the totem pole,” Sexton said. “Any political or economic or philosophical whims that come down through the system land in the training materials and the policy materials of the officers and the nurses. And they’re going crazy. They’re suffering.”

Grover said the ratio of officer suicides to the number of officers killed in the line of duty is four or five to one. That doesn’t get investigated either.

The idea that police officers need increased hours of special training is well-intentioned but might not fix the problem up top, and it’s also not feasible, according to Grover’s projection of APD’s time management. He said putting together two days of training - eight hours in the springs and eight hours in the fall - is already hard enough. The newly mandated annual 120 hours amounts to 15 days of training. They don’t have the personnel, the space nor the budget, Grover said.

“Per the DOJ agreement, officers are to be trained upwards of 120 hours a year, and the department has no plan in place for how to implement that, but they have no ability whatsoever to implement beyond 16 hours of training,” he said. “Just logistically, manpower-wise, facilities to train everyone: they don’t have anywhere to do it, they don’t have the resources. They haven’t shown any initiative to get it done either, cause I know people at the academy.”

Celina Espinoza, who does public relations for the APD said they are 25% done with the process of revamping their policies and procedures, and that officers have been getting extra training. “More than 90 percent of our field service officers are CIT (crisis intervention trained) and that’s an additional 40 hours each officer has had to undergo to deal better with people who are experiencing any mental or physical crisis related to mental illness or drug use.”

She said they’re also having concerns with the ACLU over body cameras having to record all scenarios because they don’t want to bring any unnecessary emotional unrest over people being exposed via publicly released body camera footage in the embarrassing reality of their highly vulnerable states. Body camera policies will be one of the main issues to get reviewed by the Monitor who is bound to be appointed any day now.

“The main ones that go through the Monitor are use of force, body camera policy and I think there’s another major one,” Espinoza said. “We don’t want to be capturing the most vulnerable moments for people, so it’s something we’ve taken very seriously.”

And it’s not up to an officer to set the ball rolling. Cops have no authority within the APD, they are the lowest rank on the chain of command and are the most susceptible to abuse from within the department. Take, for example, performance standards, which are in place as a way to keep track that officers are doing their job, but on the flip side, performance standards can lead them to act dishonestly out of desperation to keep their jobs, to prove themselves.

Quotas/Performance Standards

Prestige, profit incentives and fear of abuse play a role in corrupting the men and women in law enforcement in order to meet a quota, save their jobs, move up in the company, avoid humiliation at work and feed power trips - any system working the way it works breeds people to maintain the system to go on working the way it does.

The beginning of the DOJ report, formally addressed to Mayor Berry, states: We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies—including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies— contribute to the use of unreasonable force. At the conclusion of this letter, we outline the remedial measures that we believe are necessary to ensure that force is used in accordance with the Constitution.

In APD, police officers indeed have quotas - monthly numbers telling them how many traffic tickets, felony arrests, etc., they should have by the end each month. These are not necessarily written down or consistently standardized, but delivered by word-of-mouth from the higher ups. But it doesn’t look good to call them quotas anymore, said Twohig. What sells the concept of quotas, he said, is to call them performance standards.

“You can find them to some extent but like many other things in APD, they’re not written down,” Twohig said. “But if an officer talks to a supervisor, that supervisor might say ‘You know, your arrests are down - we’re expecting 15 arrests this week from you, what have you been doing?’ That’s how it gets implemented - you’re not going to find it written down.”

When he was a bike cop, Grover stressed his good intentions supplying the community bicyclists with free safety swag, “and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You know, Grover, your stats weren’t really good, next month we need to see six felony arrests.’ Yeah, right. And my response is, ‘Oh, put that in writing please, or - what? You know, what are you going to do if I don’t get six felony arrests?’ I mean, it had been not really a big deal, I’d arrested a lot of people. But at that time, downtown, we had just chased all the major issues away, so it’s like, I’m not going to make up a felony arrest.”

He said it’s arbitrary the way performance standards are enforced - it’s based on who the lieutenant is. The lieutenant pushes the sergeant to push the officers to meet quotas. The commander, above the lieutenant, is tasked with reporting each month the fulfilled or unfulfilled quotas to the chief.

“You get that officer who’s like, ‘If I don’t get this one last ticket, cause my sergeant told me I have to get 40 a month, and I’ve gotten 40 the last two months but I only have 38 today and he told me if I don’t get 40 today, at the end of the month, he’s going to put me on Performance Improvement’ and he’s going to be looking around, trying to find that ticket — maybe the temptation is to fraudulently write one or something like that,” Grover said.

Since Grover’s interviews with Rolling Stone and the New Yorker, people have been raving about him being the anti-cop, but he says his outspoken stance is misunderstood.

“I’m completely in honor of the profession of policing,” he said. “I have no taste for corruption that gives cops the authority to do what they do — being a police officer is a noble profession., and it’s getting destroyed by so many worthless and impotent chiefs across the country that want to make excuses…. I mean, real cops are going to know what’s wrong is wrong and what’s right is right, and you put your name on it either way.”

Twohig said the APD’s public relations department and the mayor’s office both cover up crimes committed by law enforcement officials, treating them not as crimes, not as civil rights violations, not as actions of misconduct for officers but rather as public relations issues.

“Its not cause these are political issues — it’s because the police department is a corrupt public institution,” Twohig said. “It commits crimes of excessive force, and the leaders of the department cover up those crimes through false public statements. That’s a fundamental definition of police corruption…Those who investigate it within the agency are lying and covering up the criminal acts. They’re doing all of this for their own benefit, for their own advancements, for promotion, for increase in rank, for increase in recognition, increase in pay, and it’s no different from taking kickbacks. It’s the same thing.”

When asked if there was a desensitizing nature to the job of being a police officer, because they are dealing with so many people everyday in the context of wrongdoing, Grover pointed out  that whether it’s medicine with patients, airline pilots and passengers, or police officer with citizen, you have a degree of tribalism where you’re either in the tribe or you’re not.

“Oh my god, it’s like, I don’t want to ever get sick cause god forbid you get a nurse and a doctor that don’t get along,” he said. “Your chance of death or unnecessary procedure are through the roof. So it’s always there. What makes it distinctive with cops, however, is we’re talking about people’s civil rights and their liberties and their freedoms, which, as Americans, we kind of are a little bit sensitive to. So, it’s there. I think there’s a tendency to inflate it but, I mean, is it there? Is there an us-vs-them? I think in the extreme sense yes.”

Grover is now an attorney and often represents officers in cases brought against them in either their internal affairs department or in the regular courts.

“The department doesn’t even treat its own employees equally,” Grover said. “If you want to see really unequal treatment, see what happens between frontline officers and supervisors…I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong, I’m saying this is the consequence of not holding anybody accountable, and the department’s failures are symptoms not of officers screwing up, but symptoms of supervisors, commanders, and on occasion, the chief, of not doing what they should’ve done and letting things go.”

He said there were weekly spreadsheet reports that got reviewed by former police chief Ray Schultz, the operations review lieutenant and the deputy chiefs, who all saw the spike in shootings and didn’t react. Schultz was the police chief from 2009-2013.

“The mere fact that we had this spike in shootings without the chief initiating on his own an investigation to see what is happening…” Grover said. “During their own independent analysis, (Schultz) used to get a spreadsheet each week showing how many arrests, how many reports were taken, how many documents of force there were, how many officer involved shootings, and you either react to it or you move on…They knew there were a spike in the number of shootings and they didn’t do anything about it.”

Grover calls the DOJ report a burden of procedure and doesn’t think it will have much of an effect on the department, since they already know about all this stuff on the inside. In that way, it’s up to the public to inspire the higher-ups to take action. Police officers can’t change it from the inside because speaking out gets them punished, ridiculed or fired. Police officers are not allowed to talk to members of the press. An officer can be punished for bringing “disrepute” to the department by speaking out about an internal injustice, going outside the role of their rank to inquire about the legitimacy of a policy, and not obeying an order even if the order is whack. An officer will experience abuse within the department if they find themselves on the wrong side of the power structure. Is that bad or is that just the way things are?

“This department has always been backed by the mayors, the police chief - there has been a longstanding cry for a remedy,” Twohig said, thumbing through a printed-out copy of the consent decree. “Past demonstrations, many killings, many brutalities — the police cover them up, treat them not as crimes, not as civil rights violations, not as actions of misconduct for officers but rather as public relations issues. So part of the remedy that you see with APD now is to boost their public relations efforts. The most recent being Coffee with a Cop.”

Coffee With A Cop

 

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Kate Michalske, as a concerned citizen, went to Coffee with a Cop on Nov. 12, 2014. Having had attended the event to get a sense whether there’d be any meaningful change as a result of the investigations, after talking with five officers individually, she came away feeling discouraged.

“They all said that it was bullshit that the DOJ even came,” Michalske said. “They were like, ‘Well, they didn’t even talk to us. All they did was talk to a couple people and read the police reports and then they went and talked to all the families. They didn’t even talk to us, they don’t even have our side of the story.’ And I was like your side of the story is the official side of the story, sir. That’s what the investigation was supposed to do. And they were like it’s complete bullshit, we’re being thrown under a bus, we don’t need to make any changes — there’s just a few bad apples.’”

Michalske said the officers she spoke with maintained that the majority of the community is on their side, and that its only some delinquents who are protesting.

“I was like, ‘How many people is it going to take to convince you that’s there’s something wrong here?’” she said. “And he’s like, ‘I don’t know, I mean, what, there was like hundreds? Thousands! Can we get thousands of people in the streets?’ And I was like Oh my god, I am so disappointed. It was terrible. It was so sad.”

Grover thinks the Chief of Police could have handled the public backlash as an opportunity to strengthen bonds with the community.

“It’s a process of educating folks,”Grover said. “Like when the families or protesters started doing their thing, hitting City Council and expressing concern, Chief should have had a roundtable then and there — pulled them up to the main room or gone down to community centers and sit down and talk with them…Recognize that you might not like them, but these are your constituents! Listen to them, that’s all it is.”

From the DOJ report: A well-functioning police department has the trust of the residents it protects, functions as a part of the community rather than insulated from it, and cultivates legitimacy when the public views it as engaging with them fairly and respecting the rule of law.

There are a lot of ways people can have an impact, Twohig said.

“If you’re talking about real change, it’s not fast, it’s really slow,” he said. “There are things that accelerate the pace of change, such as public outcry, public reaction, petitions, a lot of things accelerate the pace of change. the power structure will seek to retaliate, so they’ll arrest, prosecute, seek to incarcerate. And that means that the people attempting to bring about change are neutralized. Those who can defend them and keep them from being totally centralized can assist in accelerating the pace of change. That’s my way of looking at it.”

So they’ve got the Monitor coming in officially any day now to oversee the APD until November 10, 2016. The two years after that, the APD is on its own doing independent compliance checks. As long as they keep in compliance, then the Monitor will follow up after November 10, 2018, coming in a few times every year. She said they believe the monitor will approve their documentations so far whenever he ends up getting officially appointed.

While Espinoza over at public relations was helpful in pointing out ways the APD was implementing the mandates, I feel naive for having thought a federal investigation would automatically fix things, and I now see how energy gets mismanaged as flailing aggression at police officers that should otherwise go to people of highest rank up law enforcement’s chain of command. I’ve learned that to create change within the Albuquerque Police Department, public outcry must continue. But we must also work to understand the problem well, and this article hopes to illuminate a number of policies and trends that may factor into the way we approach change.

 

 

Marcella Ortega