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DOJ to end parts of Albuquerque PD reform pact, citing department’s compliance successes

“We are committed to reform and we have shown we can self-monitor,” APD Chief Harold Medina said

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Albuquerque Police Department

By Matthew Reisen
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Department of Justice has agreed to terminate large portions of its settlement agreement that lays out reforms within the Albuquerque Police Department due to APD having been in full compliance with those sections for at least two years.

In an announcement Friday, the DOJ said it was “a second major milestone” for the department’s reform efforts so far this year. A federal judge had already suspended the monitoring of those sections in 2022.

“This move to partial termination is yet more evidence of the City of Albuquerque’s dogged pursuit of progress,” U.S. Attorney Alexander Uballez said in a statement. “Much remains to be done, and the challenges facing us as a community are ever-evolving. While we continue to work together to confront those challenges, we applaud the steady and unrelenting drive towards the type of policing that the people of Albuquerque deserve.”

The announcement comes months after APD reached 92% operational compliance — which tracks whether officers are following policies and being corrected when they don’t — with the consent decree, also referred to as the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement, or CASA.

The CASA dates back to 2014, when the DOJ determined APD officers displayed a pattern of excessive force. The department’s compliance gains in recent years came after a chaotic stretch in 2020 and 2021 when APD backslid in reforms.

The terminations proposed Friday involve the Multi-Agency Task Force, which investigates police shootings; policies and training for specialized tactical and investigative units; and the public’s knowledge of how to file complaints, among other portions of the CASA.

If the joint motion filed by DOJ and city of Albuquerque is approved by U.S. District Judge James Browning, the monitoring and oversight of those sections, which represent roughly a quarter of the CASA, would fall solely to APD.

“The fact is we have now been in compliance with these sections for years, and I’m glad to see them finally taken out of the consent decree,” APD Chief Harold Medina said in a statement Friday. “It shouldn’t take years to acknowledge we are in compliance with the rest of the agreement. We are committed to reform and we have shown we can self-monitor.”

While the department’s successes in complying with the CASA came hand over fist in 2023, advocates and even the DOJ itself have called into question the record-high 18 police shootings recorded by APD in 2022.

In response to the high number of police shootings, APD implemented its own administrative review process — separate from the internal and criminal investigations — to identify possible shortcomings and make changes in an attempt to reduce deadly use of force by officers.

In a June hearing, the DOJ and Independent Monitor James Ginger praised APD’s recent progress with reforms, with Ginger calling the gains “remarkable.”

Paul Killebrew, deputy chief over the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said that, even after reaching full compliance with all paragraphs of the CASA, APD would have to sustain that compliance for two years.

He estimated that could happen by 2026, which would be 12 years into the department’s reform effort.

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(c)2023 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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