Trending Topics

Albuquerque PD makes significant strides in reform efforts, DOJ says

While APD’s officers and training have shown exceptional improvement, the Civilian Oversight Board and one OIS hold the department back from full compliance, according to oversight evaluators

Albuquerque Police Department generic

“In this case, we don’t judge Albuquerque by its words. We don’t judge Albuquerque by its promises. We judge it by its actions,” Killebrew said. “Those actions do not tell a coherent story, not right now. ... And that gives a lot of us some unease. Had Albuquerque made a different determination in the Jesus Crosby shooting, the story would be more coherent, from our perspective. So the fact that it’s not a coherent story, what does that tell us? What do we need to do?”

Albuquerque Police Department

By Matthew Reisen
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Department of Justice and an independent monitor cheered the successes of Albuquerque police in the latest hearing on its reform effort, this time for reducing officers’ use of force and conducting better investigations into such incidents.

The hearing came months after Independent Monitor James Ginger released his latest report that gave the city of Albuquerque its highest rating yet — 94% operational compliance — in its Court-Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the DOJ.

Those monitoring civilian oversight, one of the largest remaining roadblocks in reaching full compliance, called it “a mess” that was being cleaned up, and advocates applauded the work done by the department to come so far, so fast.

But between the praise sung in Thursday’s six-hour hearing, one name kept resurfacing: Jesus Crosby. In November 2022, he was a 41-year-old man in the throes of a mental health crisis, holding a pair of nail clippers.

Police shot him 11 times.

The Albuquerque Police Department’s top leaders approved the use of deadly force — in which officers continued firing after Crosby hit the ground — overruling its own force investigator’s finding that it was “unnecessary” and violated policy.

More than a year later, Crosby’s name repeatedly brought the hearing back to a central question, one that seems to defy datasets but has nonetheless dogged the department’s successes since a spike in police shootings in 2022.

“How do you know that culture is changing?” Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina said, repeating the question back to U.S. District Judge James Browning . “I consistently get that question and there is no scientific method. It’s going to, unfortunately, have to be anecdotal.”

Medina pointed to APD’s commitment to meeting CASA requirements over the past several years, during which the department has invested millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours — creating entire divisions and rewriting policies.

More recently, he said, it can be measured in a large decrease in uses of force even as police make more arrests, the positive words he regularly hears from the community and from surveys taken by those who call 911.

It showed in his officers’ lack of gripes about the reform process, which was the “number one complaint” when he took over in 2020. Now, Medina said, those on the force even compliment policy changes brought about by the CASA.

Crosby’s shooting spurred some of those policy changes.

Medina called Crosby’s death “a tragedy” but laid it at the feet of a “broken criminal justice system” for letting him out of jail while he was still in crisis. He said some “good came” from the incident, such as the creation of policies geared toward using less deadly force.

In general, Medina said the 32 police shootings the department has tallied since 2022 mirrored increases seen in other cities. Locally, he pointed to a growing number of people pulling guns on APD officers.

Days earlier, a shootout between police and an auto theft suspect left an APD officer in the hospital, with gunshot wounds to both hands. Medina said no other chief has had six officers shot and injured during their tenure.

He added, “I hold that record, unfortunately.”

Shaun Willoughby, Albuquerque police union president, said culture was never “a significant issue.” He called the phrase “a political talking term that means nothing.”

He said the CASA has cost taxpayers millions and led to an over-categorization of force that made officers afraid to do their jobs. Willoughby said CASA-associated policies led to the recent spike in police shootings, escalating encounters by hindering the use of less-lethal force.

He said many shootings, including Crosby, never had to happen.

Willougby said, had he been there, he would have shot Crosby with a less-lethal 40 mm round within seconds and cuffed him to live “another day.”

Paul Killebrew, deputy chief of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, at the hearing spoke glowingly of the department’s progress: a 43% decrease in use of force since 2020, the “tremendous milestone” of investigators working without external guidance and the rerouting of thousands of behavioral health calls to the Albuquerque Community Safety department.

Then he brought it back to “a very troubling case.”

“In this case, we don’t judge Albuquerque by its words. We don’t judge Albuquerque by its promises. We judge it by its actions,” Killebrew said. “Those actions do not tell a coherent story, not right now. ... And that gives a lot of us some unease. Had Albuquerque made a different determination in the Jesus Crosby shooting, the story would be more coherent, from our perspective. So the fact that it’s not a coherent story, what does that tell us? What do we need to do?”

Killebrew said they had not yet seen a pattern of shootings similar to the Crosby case and, therefore, his question was left open-ended.

He said 16 paragraphs of the CASA remained out of compliance and three revolved around deficiencies with APD and its Force Review Board , due to “mishandling” the Crosby case.

Killebrew said changes have been made to the FRB and, without any hiccups, APD could be in full compliance in the coming months. The other 13 remaining paragraphs are related to shortcomings with the Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board.

Afterward, he said, the department would have to remain in compliance for two years, setting a possible end date to federal oversight in 2026.

Killebrew said if APD comes into full compliance before the CPOA, the DOJ may seek an out-of-court agreement with the city to get the latter into compliance.

With APD still out of compliance, the idea was “all quite theoretical at this point,” he said.

Medina showed his frustration at the timeline.

“My officers worked hard every single day to meet the requirements in the settlement agreement. ... And today I’m being told that 2026 might be the day that this goes into compliance. This is a slap in my face for everything that I’ve helped accomplish here,” he said. “Because there’s a strong likelihood. ... I will no longer be the chief who gets to sit here when the settlement agreement is completed.”

Success in investigations, crisis response DOJ attorney Jared Hager noted that the External Force Investigation Team, an outside team brought in to help APD investigate force and clear a case backlog, had left APD’s Internal Affairs Force Division investigators to handle cases on their own.

He said EFIT had completed 470, or 72%, of the backlog cases and found only 5% of those out of policy. Hager said the backlog should be done by mid-May.

Another DOJ attorney, Melody Fields, said APD had “far exceeded” the CASA requirements on crisis intervention and related data collection. She said they reviewed a random sample and found that officers “showed both skill and empathy, in how they responded to people in crisis.”

Fields said the crisis response had gotten better over time. She said in 2021, APD used force 312 times against those in crisis, a number that dropped to 195 in 2022.

Fields said, going forward, APD should prioritize diverting even more calls to the Albuquerque Community Safety department, which has “more room for growth.” She said ACS diverted 1,500 calls from APD per month during the monitoring period and went to 24/7 coverage in August.

Ginger’s monitoring team highlighted the “exceptional” training that was observed being done by APD instructors on new policies. They also said IAFD investigators would be “stress tested” with EFIT no longer overseeing their investigations.

Taylor Rahn, an attorney on contract with the city, said the 94% compliance isn’t “just empty numbers.”

“There’s a reason why the CASA isn’t one paragraph: reduce officer involved shootings. Because that’s not the only measure that we’re looking for,” she said. “There’s a reason why the settlement includes the pillars of training, accountability, policy and investigations — and those pillars are being demonstrated to be compliant.”

Additionally, Rahn said, 50% of the CASA paragraphs are being self-monitored by APD and 30% have already been terminated after being self-monitored for some time by the department.

Civilian oversight, born anew

The majority of CASA paragraphs remaining out of compliance revolve around the Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board, which was formed in January after the City Council abolished the previous iteration.

Since then, board positions and leadership roles had remained vacant for months, leading to dysfunction and issues with investigations.

Diane McDermott, CPOA interim executive director, said recent momentum should have the board fully staffed within weeks and led to the hiring of a contract compliance officer.

She called the latter “the first important step” in selecting a permanent director and gaining full compliance. McDermott said they received 723 cases in 2023, 300 of which needed full investigation, a workload that required more investigators, supervisors and a case intake worker.

She said those hires, and more office space, would be part of her annual budget request.

“Our hope is that the (City Council) and the administration support the agency, and not for the purpose of just compliance, but so that we can perform in a way that our target expects and deserves,” McDermott said. “My staff and I are optimistic about where we are headed if proper staffing and budgetary decisions are made.”

Crosby case revisited

Time and time again, the Crosby case came up, whether it was through Browning, advocacy groups, the DOJ or Ginger’s team, which said, of the FRB’s decision: “It’s hard to mess it up that bad.”

“From our perspective, it’s kind of hard to see how the cultural reform and that case can coexist in the same place,” said Phil Coyne of the monitoring team.

Out of the 110 use-of-force cases reviewed by the monitoring team, Rahn said only in the Crosby case did Ginger think “APD made the wrong call.” She said APD would not reverse its decision on the shooting but emphasized that corrective action was taken.

Rahn tried to move on, calling it a “single specific incident which we have spent quite a bit of time on,” but Browning wouldn’t budge.

Browning asked her what specifically made the lethal force in the Crosby shooting in policy. She responded, “At the time that deadly force was used, it complied with our policy.”

When Crosby came up again later, Rahn put it simpler for the judge: “The shooting itself was fine, but the whole situation could have been handled better.”

Hager, the DOJ attorney, said they reviewed APD’s police shootings from 2023 and found that in 12 of the 14 cases a person brandished a gun, and in seven cases actually fired it. He said they saw none of the same “issues that arose” in the Crosby case but they would continue to monitor APD’s actions.

“We have eyes on this problem,” Hager said.

Mark Fine, who is representing Crosby’s family in a lawsuit, said the DOJ’s investigation brought to light “city leadership’s ongoing pattern of stubbornly denying responsibility for unnecessary and easily avoidable shootings.

“We know from the painful history of police shootings in Albuquerque , including the shooting of Jesus, that this denialism is deadly,” he said.


(c)2024 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.