The monitor tasked with overseeing reform of the Albuquerque Police Department only gave partial answers to questions from the public Thursday night. The community pressed James Ginger about his large salary, policy changes and the need for healing in the community.
The U.S. Department of Justice found in an investigation that APD engaged in a pattern or excessive force and unconstitutional policing.
“Good evening," Ginger said, greeting over 100 people. “The turnout is impressive and I’m really glad to see each and every one of you here.” It was standing room only at a hotel in uptown Albuquerque.
Ginger has overseen other settlement agreements between police agencies and the DOJ, but he says this is the first one that has required his engagement with the community.
“Let me open it up for questions,” Ginger said, “I know everyone in here has at least one.”
Dozens of people filed up to the microphone. Andres Valdez, who has been doing community police oversight work for decades, was holding the microphone waiting to speak when Ginger took a moment to explain that it’s not actually part of his job to tell the chief of police what to do. That’s when things got awkward.
“We’re here to evaluate whether the chief and his police department have complied with the settlement agreement,” Ginger said.
“And if they don’t comply,” asked Valdez, “what do you do?”
“We put it in the report,” Ginger responded, “that they haven’t complied.”
“What’s done with that report?” Valdez asked.
“It gets distributed,” Ginger said. “People read it.”
“What about accountability?” countered Valdez.
After Valdez interrupted Ginger with the question, Ginger called for security, escalating the tension.
“Who is security here?” Ginger asked.
A cop from the back of the room went up to the microphone and hovered while Valdez continued speaking.
“I wanted to ask a question,” Valdez said.
“Well ,if you’ll let me finish,” Ginger replied, “then you can ask a question. That’s the way this works.”
Ginger went on to explain that his report will be available online and in public libraries around town. It’s already past due but he said it will be finalized by December.
Then Valdez pressed Ginger on the theme of transparency, pointing to how he didn’t attend a city council meeting earlier this year to discuss how much he was being paid.
“My point is right from the beginning,” Valdez said, “you come to town and you don’t want to meet with city council over your $4.5 million contract.”
Ginger was defensive. He doesn’t live in New Mexico and he’s been criticized for not being available to the public and for canceling meetings at the last minute. But Ginger said that’s all about to change.
“Just so you know,” he said, “and this is top secret, but come December I’ll be living here, so no more flying back and forth." For a moment it seemed as though he’d won the crowd over a bit, but then he went on.
“We’re ready to go to work now,” Ginger said. “The first six months we were prepping to go to work, but now we’re ready.” There was some eye rolling in the room.
Then people brought up the issue of body-worn cameras. Under the settlement agreement with the DOJ, that policy has to be overhauled.
“We’re in the process right now,” Ginger explained, “of giving APD advice on that policy and getting it cleared to submit to the Department of Justice.”
People really wanted to talk more about the body-camera policy because there was confusion about when officers are required to record interactions with civilians. But after just a few minutes, Ginger told everyone to go and read the settlement agreement for themselves, specifically paragraph 220, which deals with the issue.
“If you want to have an intelligent discussion,” Ginger said, “take a look at the paragraph and then let’s have a discussion.”
Again and again people talked about the pain and anger that the community is carrying. Thom Allena asked Ginger about how the reform process was going to address healing.
“What are your thoughts,” Allena asked, “as to not just putting money into APD, but repairing the harm that this culture of excessive force has done to the community?”
The crowd applauded. Ginger responded that he had brought a New Mexican onto his monitoring team recently who specializes in restorative justice. That’s a technique that would have a cop involved in using excessive force sit down with the victim or their family to talk.
“I intend to have some dialogue about it,” Ginger said.
Ginger kept emphasizing that this reform process, which is expected to last at least three more years, is akin to a marathon, not a sprint.
“I understand the pain,” Ginger said, “I understand the hurry and the angst, but if we mess this up we don’t get a second chance.”
Several people told Ginger his half-answers didn’t cut it. They said folks here have been running this marathon for a very long time and their patience is wearing thin.