Report: Albuquerque police failed in use-of-force reviews

Posted at 10:32 PM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 22:32:58-04

Albuquerque police struggled to adequately investigate use-of-force cases amid a mostly failed review system for holding officers accountable, while the department's SWAT units showed improvement in de-escalating standoffs and other high-stress situations, a court-appointed monitor's report said Friday.

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.

Ginger is tasked with tracking reforms mandated in a settlement agreement between Albuquerque police and the U.S. Justice Department, which found a culture of excessive force among the police department ranks after a months-long investigation that ended in 2014.

The Albuquerque Police Department also faced public scrutiny for a high rate of shootings by police between 2010 and 2014.

"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."

Ginger, who the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico describes as an expert on police reform, took particular issue with a case in which an officer reportedly kneed a suspected car thief in the head in October. The officer's supervisor delayed filing a report on the case, which monitors said raised serious concerns about a "superficial chain of command" for reviews.

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.

Past reports pointed to struggles with writing policies aimed at guiding officer training for crisis intervention and the use of force. Those policies have since been finalized and approved by Ginger.

Ginger said the policy for the Albuquerque Police 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.

"I think history shows that when he raises a concern, the department's response is to address it, and that's what the community can expect," said Jessica Hernandez, the city attorney for Albuquerque.

Since the reporting period, all police department supervisors have been trained on a new policy for conducting use-of-force investigations, city officials said. The deadline for training all officers against those policies was June.

"It's really important to remember and make clear that he's reporting on how investigations were being done before any of the training was in place," Hernandez said.