Controversial tweets roil NM PD's oversight board

Police union contends that the statements reveal one board member cannot fulfill her duty to be impartial

By Elise Kaplan
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Civilian Police Oversight Agency Board debated – but ultimately rejected – a proposal to establish a social media policy following a dustup between one of its members and the police union.

At issue are board member Chelsea Van Deventer’s Twitter posts, including one in which she re-tweets a news analysis about the federal “Blue Lives Matter Bill,” and adds “F— THIS” and others in which she references police shootings in other states.

The controversy flared during last Thursday’s CPOA board meeting, with board members discussing impartiality and whether to establish a social media policy. Ultimately, the board took no action on the matter.

The CPOA was created after a Department of Justice investigation found the Albuquerque Police Department had a practice of using excessive force and violating citizens’ rights. The agency investigates complaints against citizens and makes recommendations to the chief about discipline.

Last month, the Albuquerque Police Officers Association sent a letter to the oversight agency board calling on Van Deventer to resign and bringing attention to her tweets. The association contends that the statements reveal Van Deventer cannot fulfill her duty to be impartial as required by the CPOA ordinance.

Shaun Willoughby, APOA president, told the Journal he believes Van Deventer has proven herself to be biased against police officers.

“This is about her open bias against the profession of policing and the fact that she is involved in voting for disciplinary infractions that concern Albuquerque police officers,” he said.

Van Deventer, who has been on the board for about a year and a half, said in an interview Friday she has no plans to resign.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico – as a member of the APD Forward community coalition – drafted its own letter, defending Van Deventer’s First Amendment rights and saying it’s troubling that the union would try to influence the board in this way.

“Whether by coercing the board to vote for resignation or through a sustained campaign of harassment, the APOA or any other party to the consent decree must not be allowed to destabilize years of reforms needed to address APD’s unconstitutional pattern and practice of excessive use of force,” the ACLU letter states.

Although the board decided not to implement a social media policy for its members, it did discuss “impartiality” and bias extensively. The CPOA ordinance states members should have: “a demonstrated ability to engage in mature, impartial decision making; and a commitment to transparency and impartial decision making.”

Vice chairwoman Joanne Fine referenced the ordinance and spoke out strongly against board members independently stating their views about policing.

“I think that we made a promise as board members to be impartial and be fair minded about these issues, that’s the whole reason we exist,” she said. “If we put that into question via social media or op-ed pieces or anything else – by putting our own personal feeling out there relative to APD and this issue – I think we put at risk everybody on the board in terms of their ability to be seen as a fair-minded person.”

In response to the police union’s criticism of her tweet using an expletive in reference to a “Blue Lives Matter Bill” – legislation that would include a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for assaulting a police officer – Van Deventer said she thought that kind of legislation is “a dangerous solution in search of a problem.”

“It is mostly a knee-jerk reaction to the success of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has finally brought to attention the disproportional use of lethal force against black bodies,” she wrote in an email to the Journal. “The fact that there exists a disproportionate use of lethal force against black bodies – nationally speaking – is just factual. Acknowledging facts does not indicate a bias.”

She said she pays a lot of attention to policing locally and nationally and that’s what made her interested in serving on the CPOA.

“I don’t think displaying an interest in the subject matter that’s central to policing – whether it be academically or monitoring current events – is any sort of disqualifier,” Van Deventer said. “I think it’s rather absurd to expect a police oversight board to be comprised of people who don’t have any interest in the subject matter that is central to police oversight and accountability. That’s definitely not the type of board the community should aspire to.”

©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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