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Monitor Rips APD Use Of Force Reform Process

Rita Daniels/KUNM
Protesters marched after the 2014 shooting of James Boyd.

The independent monitor tasked with reviewing reform of the Albuquerque Police Department bashed the department's progress in a special report last week.

The U.S. Department of Justice found a pattern of unconstitutional use of excessive force and mandated changes but the monitor wrote in his report that APD has “almost no appetite for correcting behavior that violates existing policy.”  

KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel spoke with Matt Grubs, a reporter with KRQE-TV’s special assignment investigative team. They’ve been covering the APD reform process.

KUNM: The federal monitor, James Ginger, says things aren’t progressing as they should at the department. What did he say in this special report? What are the problems he’s seeing with APD’s work to reform things like how officers use force?

Grubs: He took a look at the way the department has set up its system to monitor use of force. And one of the criticisms that the DOJ had is that APD didn’t do a good job of holding officers accountable. Essentially what the independent monitor is saying here is that they are still not doing a good job of doing that. He pointed to some incidents from 2015 and then hinted that in his opinion, and the opinion of his team, it’s not progressing as it should. What he saw back then is what he’s seeing now.

KUNM: These incidents that he pointed to in the special report, what are some of the things that he’s saying, ‘Hey, these are problematic things that officers are still doing’?

Grubs: He saw, for example, a team of officers who responded to a bait car situation, where they set up a car that has all sorts of kill switches and stuff, and [you] try to get someone to steal it. They caught up with this perpetrator and in the takedown they were using knee strikes. They’ve got four officers out there and what the independent monitor is saying here is that those four officers that they had out there, all of them delivered knee strikes to this person. Four officers controlling one person. So that raised some eyebrows as far as the independent monitor is concerned. And he looked at that and he looked at the response of the department to that and found that, in his opinion, the department’s response was lacking. There wasn’t the accountability that there should have been. And APD doesn’t argue this point, the city doesn’t argue this point, that the responses to that were lackluster. Where there’s a difference here, is that the city is saying, ‘look, that’s in the past,’ and the monitor is saying, ‘I don’t think it’s in the past.’

KUNM: And this timeline issue, what’s in the past and what’s current with respect to what officers are doing right now, what the department is doing right now, as opposed to what the department was doing three months ago, how should we be trying to wrap our brains around this tension?

Grubs: That’s what you really pick up when you look at this special report. There is a tension between the monitor who is saying, yes, there is a built in lag time because APD is giving us all the data on arrests but the systems that we see in place and the ‘culture of low accountability,’ those are his words, at APD, that is what’s of concern. So he basically says that the city should not be pretending that these issues are fixed because in his view they aren’t.

KUNM: So the city of Albuquerque has responded to this special report. APD has been training officers. They’ve been implementing new policies on use of force. What are we hearing from city attorneys?

Grubs: The city attorney sent a letter last Friday when the report was released and says these things all happened at the end of 2015. And the latest data that the monitor has only brings us through the spring, so how can he possible say that his opinion is based on up to date data? The independent monitor counters with, they may be new policies but the principles behind them—these are standard investigative techniques—that should be used. And that’s what the independent monitor says he’s not seeing. 

Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for readers.

Elaine Baumgartel was KUNM's News Director from 2013 to 2019. She was local Morning Edition host from 2007 through 2012 and she regularly hosted the station's live news and public affairs show for some years. Elaine originally came on board at KUNM as a volunteer and student employee in 2003.
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