Independent Review Officer Robin Hammer criticizes the city's Police Oversight Commission for failing to examine APD's overall policy on the use of force.
"The current commissioners have chosen not to use some of the powers they’ve already been given," she said in an interview with KUNM. "At no point in my 18 months has the Police Oversight Commission chosen to look at officer-involved shootings and to review what’s gone on."
Police Oversight Commissioner Richard Shine circulated suggestions for reform among members of the POC and City Council in November. KUNM News obtained a copy of his legislative proposals, which say a civilian commission should be able to independently investigate all officer-involved shootings and other uses of force, such as Tasers, open-hand combat and bean-bag shootings.
A task force convened by the City Council drew up recommendations at the end of January. Hammer said that report doesn’t make any mention of officer-involved shootings, and the task force was remiss in not addressing the use of deadly force, especially because it's of "grave importance" to the entire city.
Hammer says her office could use more employees, including another investigator, another analyst and someone to do community outreach, at minimum. The staff shortage "leads to not doing the best job possible because of the constraints of personnel," she added. As things stand, she said, the Independent Review Office sometimes hands over investigations of less serious police complaints to APD's own Internal Affairs.
Every time an officer-involved shooting happens in Albuquerque, Hammer is called to the scene. She observes the briefing with officers afterward, and eventually reviews all of the materials collected by Internal Affairs. She looks for violations of APD's Standard Operating Procedures, and writes a letter for APD about whether the officer was in compliance.
The chain of command evaluates the letter and decides whether APD agrees with her findings. Then the matter goes before the Police Oversight Commission, and Hammer makes a presentation. The commission votes on whether or not it concurs, and a final letter is sent to APD, where it's added to the personnel files of the officers.
Neither Hammer nor the Police Oversight Commission has the authority to discipline police. “We don’t even make recommendations with respect to discipline," she said. "That’s a personnel matter and governed by union contract and city personnel rules and regulations.”
Hammer and the POC also examine complaints made by citizens against APD that are not related to shootings. Because of police union contract, the police chief sometimes has a limited window in which to impose discipline. Sometimes that window closes before the commission votes on Hammer's letter and it's sent along to APD. She specified that it's never been an issue with regard to the use of deadly force “there are procedures in which—if the chief chooses to do so—the timelines can be worked with in officer-involved shootings.”
As far as Hammer knows, there has only ever been one finding that an officer was not in compliance with the Standard Operating Procedures: in the case of Kenneth Ellis III's shooting death.
This process has been in place for 10 years. "The system is working well," Hammer said. "I think that not enough people know about our organization."
The Independent Review Office is often criticized as not being independent enough, because Hammer's contract is renewed by Mayor Richard Berry. She said that she has no ties or political connections to the mayor. "Until he’d called me to his office to tell me he had selected me for the position, I’d never met the man," she said. "Even to this day, I have not had substantive conversation with the mayor about any matters that appear before the Police Oversight Commission or the IRO."
She points out that she was hired on consent of the City Council, which voted unanimously to give her the job. "City Council is equally as much my supervisor as the mayor."