ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — The beleaguered Albuquerque Police Department got more bad news Tuesday in a report from an independent monitor who called the lack of scrutiny from its top brass in use-of-force cases so “mystifying” and “startling” as to be “deliberate non-compliance.”
In the fifth report evaluating the Albuquerque Police Department’s compliance with a settlement agreement after a years-long Department of Justice investigation, independent monitor James Ginger, Ph.D., praised many of the APD’s efforts, noting that it has achieved primary compliance with 93 percent of the tasks outlined in the settlement agreement, and reached operational compliance with 47 percent of agreed-upon reforms.
But the 405-page report covering August 2016 to January 2017 criticized the APD’s failure to codify, report and investigate use of force by officers in the field.
The report notes that monitors “continue to see issues related to use of force in the areas of neck holds, distraction strikes, and ‘shows of force.’ In fact, treatment of each of these issues has led to delays in our ability to assure that APD crafts a revised use of force policy that addresses the issues the monitoring team has noted over the past months.”
Of particular concern, the monitors identified lack of clear definition of what constitutes a show or use of force. One example cited was the so-called “distraction strike,” a “use of force that is used to stun or distract a suspect long enough for an officer (or officers) to gain a tactical advantage in handcuffing.”
Distraction strikes are uses of force and should be treated as such, the report states. It adds: “Based on our experience, ‘distraction strikes’ as implemented by APD are nothing more than a collective euphemism designed to mask what otherwise would be a use of force.”
The report states: “Strikes, leg sweeps, pushes, shoves, etc. are uses of force, no matter the rationale behind them. For whatever reason, the monitoring team cannot move APD to define these terms as force and to treat them accordingly. We have noted this problem since our first site visit to APD, and continue to do so.”
The harshest criticism was directed at high-ranking APD command members who failed to properly investigate use-of-force incidents.
In a sampling of 16 use-of-force incidents studied by the monitoring team, none received “effective command-level review,” and none were flagged for additional review.
“Few systems can survive such a failure rate,” the report states.
It also criticized the delays in use-of-force investigations.
“We note with more than a little frustration that, after five attempts to prompt a legitimate follow-up on [use-of-force] cases that the monitoring team have identified as problematic that two of the three remain unresolved after nine months! To our minds this constitutes a clear example of deliberate non-compliance.”
Overall, the report shows improvement in the Albuquerque PD’s compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement and general attitude toward reform. But it points out several areas where reforms were met with resistance, particularly when it comes to internal investigations of possible officer misconduct or misjudgments.
“Notifications to the APD of problematic behavior have resulted in piecemeal, uneven, or, in some cases, no responses by APD, even after the questionable incidents have been brought to APD’s attention by the monitoring team,” the report states.
A status conference to discuss the report is set for May 10 before U.S. District Judge Robert Brack.