US monitor: No deal yet on Albuquerque use-of-force policy

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2015 5:48 PM
US monitor: No deal yet on Albuquerque use-of-force policy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An independent monitor overseeing federally-ordered changes to the Albuquerque Police Department said Thursday that police are at odds with his team over how to revamp the department's policy on use-of-force — a key part of a reform agreement.

Court-appointed monitor James Ginger told a federal judge there's no agreement on a new policy, one of several issues delaying reform. He said officers cannot be trained if a new policy doesn't exist.

"There is no way out of it from my perspective. These things are nonnegotiable," he said.

Ginger released his first progress report Thursday, saying despite the lack of agreement when it comes to the use of force, police are in compliance with the goals established so far.

For example, the department has created a policy review board and has informed officers of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which stemmed from a harsh report by the agency that faulted police for inconsistent policies and using excessive force, especially in cases involving mentally ill suspects.

Albuquerque police also had been scrutinized for more than 40 police shootings since 2010.

Jessica Hernandez, an attorney for the city, admitted that both sides remained at odds on use of force but told a U.S. District Judge Robert Brack Albuquerque officials were committed to meeting the deadlines in the agreement.

"This is a major organizational change for an organization that's been doing the same thing for years and years," Hernandez said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said he felt confident the department would have a use-of-force policy developed by June, which he said was the deadline to have it completed.

"We are very close to having a monitor-approved use of force policy," Eden said. "This will be the foundation of the Albuquerque police department. We have one opportunity to get it right."

The Albuquerque police force is one of several agencies nationwide under a court-ordered agreement with the Justice Department.

Ginger told the judge that timelines established by the settlement also have been delayed because his contract wasn't approved until months after the reform agreement took effect.

That prompted concern for Brack, the federal judge, who said he was worried Albuquerque wouldn't meet its two-year deadline by November 2016.

Civil rights advocates also expressed worry that the city was falling further behind on meeting its deadlines because of the delay on an excessive force policy.

"We should be on second base but we are barely warming up to take the field," said Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, who was among those who filed a complaint against police. "We are falling further behind."

The report released Thursday covers changes made at Albuquerque police from Feb. 1 to May 31.

Ginger said the next report on reforms will cover June 1 to Nov. 30 and is scheduled to be released in March.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras . Follow Mary Hudetz on Twitter at http://twitter.com/marymhudetz. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/mary-hudetz .