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Police Reform Advocate Says APD Has A Leadership Problem

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance

A lawyer with the Department of Justice said in Federal Court on Wednesday, May 10, that the Albuquerque Police Department has made “remarkable progress” in its reform process. But Judge Robert Brack said a recent report is troubling.

The monitor overseeing APD noted in his analysis last week that use of force is still a problem at the department, including using force against people who are handcuffed and not giving people time to submit, among other problems. He wrote there are still training, supervision and disciplinary issues for officers who take things too far.

In an emailed statement, the police department said it is becoming more compliant with court-mandated reforms, but there is still work to be done on better supervising use of force.

KUNM talked about what the monitor said with Laurie Weahkee last week. She’s with the police reform advocacy group APD Forward and is executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance. 

WEAHKEE: I’m really disappointed. It almost seems to me that the Albuquerque Police Department is not truly understanding the gravity and the seriousness of all of these issues of use of force. And it almost seems like there was a rush to sort of like, “Yeah, we can figure this out. We just draft a couple policies and do a few trainings, and we’ll be fine.” But in fact, a lot of the behavior continues, and the lack of documentation about that continues.

KUNM: There’s also some pretty serious problems with disciplining officers who violate the use-of-force policy, according to the monitor’s report. And it’s been over two years since the city reached a settlement agreement with the DOJ, but Albuquerque’s been talking about this for decades, right? So with everything that’s happened in these last years, are you seeing the kind of progress you want to see?

WEAHKEE: No, and I really do think it’s a leadership issue. I do think it does take a lot of time to shift the culture—I guess organizational culture, institutionalized culture. I understand that that needs a lot of work and, you know, daily effort.

The idea that they’re still going to use force on people who are handcuffed—and, you know, the trainings have already occurred, and that’s still happening and not being reported—to me is an issue of leadership. You know there are a lot of really good cops out there, good police officers, that need our support, and it really shouldn’t be like this.

And so for me, I’m really concerned that the leadership hadn’t really understood this and needs to do better in terms of demanding that the reports get completed, that they understand how they’re supposed to complete these reports, you know, all that sort of stuff.

KUNM: APD issued a press release saying the department is compliant. But that’s not what the monitor’s seems to be saying.

WEAHKEE: For me it’s deeply concerning when I think about my own people on the streets of Albuquerque having to deal with police, in many cases having use of force against them. And then you have the leadership of the police department just sort of treating this more like a messaging sort of issue. And, you know, “So we’re going to do our press release, and we are compliant.” It really sets up this idea of “us and them,” which is not helpful, right? I think that we all as a community really do believe in public safety. We’ve seen the crime rates go up.

The monitor, their staff, the reports, all this, have really tried to figure out like, “Well, what is the reality on the ground. How can we fix this? How can we achieve a more responsible, accountable police department?" So it doesn’t help then, when the police department then just pounds out a press release saying, “Well, we’re compliant, and therefore, like, no problems here,” when I don’t think that’s at all the reality.

KUNM: The monitor keeps saying in his reports—because this is the fifth report—that APD seems incapable of making real, thorough changes, the real thorough changes that it has to make. And now it seems like the DOJ may not press this issue nationally. We’ve heard Jeff Sessions say it’s going to kind of back off around the country, where the DOJ is looking at different police departments. Do you think this might all just come to nothing in the end?

WEAHKEE: No, I actually think with such a serious problem, the community is going to continue to push forward. And so, even if the national policy is to sort of ignore and look away from a lot of this police violence, the community is still going to build its voice and build its commitment to making sure that we do have safe communities, and that we do re-organize our resources in a way that we’re funding public safety.

If we don’t have the leadership to ensure public safety but rather we continue business as usual and we allow this use of force, we allow this sort of aggression from the police department to the people, the community then will articulate ways in which to sort of combat this stuff. 

Monitor's Fifth Report on Scribd

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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