The city of Albuquerque says the monitor charged with overseeing reform of the police department is not neutral and has an ax to grind. James Ginger released his sixth report on APD’s progress. The Albuquerque Police Department also just last week rolled out its own website: APDreform.com. A coalition of community groups called APD Forward says the site is little more than spin meant to hide lingering problems on the police force.
KUNM spoke to Steven Robert Allen of the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of the coalition, about whether the site undermines transparency and reform. The conversation took place prior to the report’s release.
ALLEN: The timing is just bizarre. We think this new website is suspect, because it doesn’t provide the context necessary for the public to really understand where APD is in terms of coming into compliance with the settlement agreement.
KUNM: Is the concern that the monitoring team would be influenced by what you’re kind of saying is spin? Or are you thinking more about public perception?
ALLEN: It’s more about public perception and just having a real, fact-based dialogue about where this department is. When the monitor’s report finally came out—the last one in May—the monitor said in several places that APD and in particular APD’s leadership was deliberately not complying with the agreement, that they were obstructing the reform process.
We have the no idea what’s going to be in the sixth report, but from everything that we’ve seen, you know, it’s probably not going to be the rosy picture that the public will see when they log on to APDreform.com. And that, we believe, is problematic. Because an essential part of this process is community engagement and community understanding about what the problems have been with this department and what we need to do to change them. And APD seems to be taking steps to deliberately cloud that public debate.
KUNM: Do you think that the website kind of plays into the hope that people have that things actually could be getting better?
ALLEN: Yeah, we all have that hope, and I think to APD’s credit, some things have been getting better. You know, there have been improvements that have been made. They need to get credit for that. But the problem is, you know, as the monitor said in his fifth report, the department is failing in some of the most crucial aspects of reform, including reforms around the use of force and reporting on the use of force, tracking incidents of use of force, and then responding to them in a way that’s appropriate. That is the fundamental reason why we’re even engaged in this process in the first place.
KUNM: So in the overview page of this site it says the goal is to “educate the public about changes taking place within the police department that may be overlooked by traditional media.” Did that strike you? And what do you think it means?
ALLEN: It did strike us, because that specific quote actually gets to one of the root issues that APD Forward has focused on over the last few months. We actually met with leaders at the department a few months ago to voice our criticisms about the way they were using social media. And this department has not been particularly accessible to reporters and to traditional media, and we believe they should be.
By just putting up a website or posting things on their Facebook page, it’s a way for the department to avoid really tough questions from reporters about the status of reforms. And it’s evasive, in our view, to use this type of online tool as a substitute for engaging in tough and direct public dialogue with traditional media and with the public at large.
KUNM: You’ve been talking about the pieces that are missing, which is real transparency around use of force and real change around use of force. What do you think people need to keep their eye on?
ALLEN: Well this new report is going to come out, and it’s going to provide the real glimpse at where APD is in terms of reform.