OPA and the Real Policy “Team”

APD’s Policy Secrets

Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Board is frustrated and angry. The Board is supposed to be an important part of the City’s police reform effort. But concerns over not having an effective seat at the policy-making table continue to occupy the time and thwart the efforts of the Police Oversight Board, which has repeatedly objected to its exclusion from the City’s policy-making process.

The CPOB is mandated by ordinance to devote more than half its time to policy development and review, but has had virtually no voice in the policy review process up to now.

The Board members were upset last year by APD’s promulgation of a Use of Force policy that lacked language they considered important and included language that was confusing. The City’s policy review process is coming under fire now from Board members who have still not been allowed a policy role.

Sparked by Dr. Ginger’s harsh criticism of the City’s defective process and lack of progress in developing and revising police policies, the City announced last year a solution consisting of hiring a “policy expert” and creating a new policy review board. They called it the Office of Policy Analysis.

At their March 16, 2017, monthly meeting, Board members discussed a letter to APD Chief Gorden Eden about the then year-old Office of Policy Analysis. After initially being excluded entirely, two oversight board members and their Director were added to the OPA Board as “voting members.”

Now the CPOB people attending the closed OPA meetings are reporting that the meetings are often chaotic, crowded with issues and controversies, and short on meaningful discussion or debate. They also complain that even though some of them are allowed to attend OPA meetings their concerns are ignored anyway.

March, 2016:  Policy Changes Announced

On March 18, 2016 the federal Monitor, Dr. Ginger, met with the City Councilors for a Council “study session.” At that time Dr. Ginger presented the Monitor’s Second Report to the City Councilors. The report was very critical of the City’s policy development process.

It was at that meeting that City Attorney Jessica Hernandez announced three major changes to the policy development process, all based on her contention that the City had fruitlessly spent the last year trying to develop new and original policies rather than those already in use or approved for use elsewhere.

The City Attorney announced that:  1) future policy development would be based on best practices and successful implementation in other places;  2) the City has contracted with former Judge Garcia to review and revise policies; and 3) the City has established a new Office of Policy Analysis — OPA — to oversee its policy review and revision process.

The City Councilors discussed the plans for the OPA to take over both the start and the finish of the City’s policy development process. The City Attorney left no doubt that Judge Garcia was going to act as the City’s final policy-maker at least through May and June of 2016, when OPA was expected to take over.

The Fourth Policy Group

May, 2016:  Judge Never Heard of OPA; Has “SOP Team”

It was in March, 2016, that the City Attorney told the City Councilors about the new policy expert and review board.

But on May 17, 2016, Judge Garcia addressed the Police Oversight Board and said he had never heard of OPA. He had learned of OPA’s existence online, but he still knew nothing about it, he told the Oversight Board.

Garcia described his new role and responsibilities to the stunned Board members. He denied knowing anything about OPA. Judge Garcia listed a long list of policies he said he personally had reviewed, revised, and sent to the Monitor for approval. But, he insisted, he knew nothing about the City’s OPA.

After the former federal judge described his policy-making activities to the City’s Police Review Board, one member of the Board asked him if the policy group he described “has a name.” Judge Garcia responded, telling the Board that the group consisted of himself, APD Administrator Bill Slauson, and Police Union lawyer Fred Mowrer:  his “SOP Team.”

A Month Later. . . .

June, 2016:  OPA Meets with a “Stakeholder”

Not long after Judge Garcia insisted he knew nothing about it, OPA held a quasi-public meeting. If nothing else the first “open meeting” of OPA revealed both the Board membership and some of the operations of the new administrative agency and board and suggested a collusive arrangement, sending its “recommendations” to the OPA and receiving policy responses from the APD.

The meeting with the ACLU’s lawyer was very poorly attended, perhaps because as reporter Charles Arasim (who is responsible for many of these video recordings) states at the end of the clip, there was no public notice or announcement of the meeting.

Policy Makers Identified

The City’s policy review and reform process has failed to include many of those it was required to include, notably the Police Oversight Board and the public. After the false start and a wasted year that City Attorney Jessica Hernandez characterized as “a misunderstanding,” Dr. Ginger and his monitoring team  took over the process, devoting a substantial amount of time, effort, and expense to “helping” the City policy writers first write a Use of Force policy and then a host of others.

None of those initial policies went through the previously prescribed policy-making process and none of those policies were reviewed by the Civilian Oversight Board or the public as required by law.

By March, 2016, Dr. Ginger’s Second Independent Monitor’s Report revealed that there really was no policy development process and the existing policy committees at APD — the Standard Operating Procedure Review Committee (SOP Review Committee) and the Police Policy Review Committee (PPRC, a/k/a “The Four Lieutenants”) — were just going through the motions but not actually doing anything.

That’s when the plan for Judge Garcia and the new Office of Policy Analysis, or OPA, was created. The contract with Judge Garcia, who had worked for years as a federal magistrate judge, served several purposes. First, it was a form of insurance against any actual pressure or real threat from Judge Brack and provided a link to the court. Second, it created a veneer of professionalism that APD had not been able to achieve up to then, and third and most important, it provided a “legal” justification for whatever language was used; and that was mistakenly considered the most crucial purpose of the APD policies: to protect the police and provide a shield against legal liability.

The formation of the Office of Policy Analysis was more of the same.

But the bottom line for those insisting on a reasonable  process that includes both civilian oversight review and input as well as public and community knowledge and opportunity to be heard is that Garcia was probably telling the truth when he described how he, Bill Slauson, and Fred Mowrer — the SOP Team — are the ones actually making and revising the APD policies.

Epilogue

The Oversight Board members appear ready to assert themselves, but uncertain how to proceed. According to Brown, the head of the volunteer Oversight Board’s policy subcommittee, OPA has quickly become dysfunctional. Judge Garcia doesn’t attend OPA meetings and has not participated in any policy development or other matter she was aware of, she told the other Board members.

The City and its police union’s creation of a closed-to-the-public, sham policy development process was bad enough, but doing it with the assistance of a retired federal judge and with the knowledge and approval of the Department of Justice, the Court’s Monitor, and Judge Brack signals the ultimate betrayal of the public’s trust and confidence.

A report in the on-line ABQ Free Press (March 30, 2017) quotes Oversight Board Chairwoman Joanne Fine saying that “OPA has consistently fallen short” and “is a joke.”

And, also as reported by the Free Press, CPOA Director Harness “stated that Eden has lied about the OPA’s makeup by claiming that retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia is a member. He [Garcia] has never attended an OPA meeting, Harness said.”

Nonetheless, the City has reportedly paid Judge Lorenzo Garcia $107,879.75 for his work on APD policies.

Please like, comment, and share...:

March 16, 2017 CPOB Meeting

The March meeting of the Civilian Police Oversight Board was a relatively lengthy meeting that included an officer involved wounding case and much discussion about the Board’s considerable dissatisfaction with the Chief’s responses to the Board and the ability of the Board members to affect City policy.

The Board announced that their new data analyst, Dr.  Miriam Verploegh, would be leaving.

As it now does routinely, the Board dismissed several cases by closing them administratively or by signing off on their dismissal without identifying any specific cases by name. The Board also held a closed “Executive Session” without identifying or announcing the reason for its secret meeting, saying only that it was for discussion of personnel or attorney-client privileged matters.

The Policy Review Subcommittee report by Dr. Brown focused on the City’s Office of Policy Analysis and a letter being drafted about the failure of the process to allow input from the members of the Civilian Oversight Board or the public.

Officer-Involved Shooting Case

The CPOB heard and agreed with Director Harness’ recommendation of further inquiry into the “accidental” shooting and wounding of an Albuquerque man. In particular, he suggested that an investigation should be initiated against Sergeant K., who “ordered an out- of-policy search.”

Ramiro Armendariz was shot on December 14, 2014 by APD officer Tamas Nadas, who claimed he was climbing through a window on a burglary investigation in an apartment near Louisiana and Zuni “when he stumbled. He accidentally fired a shot, sending a bullet from a second-floor apartment through to the first floor apartment where Armendariz was grabbing a drink of water,” according to KRQE’s report.

The CPOA and Harness not only found fault with both the conduct of the officer who fired the bullet, but expressed concern over officers’ unwarranted and unconstitutional search of the premises above the shooting victim’s apartment and the investigation that failed to criticize either the shooting or the warrantless entry by police. “The law does not allow the officer to enter that apartment” without a warrant, Harness told Board Chair Joanne Fine, when she questioned his conclusion that the warrantless entry violated the law.

The case was reportedly settled for around $400,000.

Please like, comment, and share...:

Frustration and a Study Session

At last month’s (February 9, 2017) meeting Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Board members expressed their frustration with the limitations imposed by the City and APD officials that some Board members believed has crippled the Police reform effort in Albuquerque.

Civilian Police Oversight Agency Director Ed Harness described efforts to have a voice in the selection of the vendor the City was going to contract with to investigate allegations of tampering with lapel camera videos.  The Board members are anxious to address their concerns to the City Council and see changes made to the City’s police oversight ordinance, but they were advised they should arrange a “study session” with the City Counselors first.

That “study session” was held on Friday, March 10, 2017.

Please like, comment, and share...: