ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Serious problems related to deadly police shootings. Huge payouts to settle lawsuits against cops. A broken Internal Affairs system. And deep distrust between the community and the Albuquerque Police Department.
Those were among the findings of a city-commissioned report on APD.
That report is available today on the city’s website.
It reads like it could’ve been written last week, as Albuquerque’s place in the national spotlight over police use-of-force issues re-solidifies after a year-and-a-half federal investigation has drawn to a close.
But co-authors Samuel Walker and Eileen Luna actually delivered the report to the City Council on Feb. 28, 1997.
“My first impression of the APD in 1997 was that they were pretty quick to use deadly force,” Walker, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a national police practices expert, told KRQE News 13 in an interview this week.
The so-called “Walker-Luna Report” pointed to 30 deadly police shootings in the 10 years before the two law enforcement aces arrived in Albuquerque.
“We immediately and intuitively sensed that this was an extremely high figure for a police department the size of the APD,” Walker and Luna wrote in their report. “Based on our analysis of data, we conclude that the rate of fatal shootings by APD officers over the past decade is unusually and unacceptably high.”
At that time, Albuquerque had about 100,000 fewer residents than it does today, and about 20 fewer police officers.
Since January 2010, city police officers have shot 34 men, killing 24 of them.
News 13 asked Walker this week for his reaction to the current state of affairs at APD.
“What is it, 17 years later?” he said. “It’s disturbing to me that that problem wasn’t fixed, that things did not change. I would say disturbed is the best way to characterize my reaction. This thing should have been fixed. What that indicates is that there is a culture in the department, a failure of the chief and management to get on top of these problems, and now the Justice Department has to step in.”
APD has been on the Justice Department’s radar since at least August 2011 for questionable police shootings, other high-profile use of force incidents, officer misconduct, a seemingly deep-seated unwillingness of APD leaders to hold officers accountable. In November 2012, the DOJ launched an investigation of Albuquerque police.
That investigation, News 13 has learned, has drawn to a close. Findings are expected any day.
Walker and Luna were asked to evaluate the three mechanisms for APD oversight at the time: Internal Affairs, an independently-hired attorney and the fledgling citizen oversight board.
The two came back with 10 recommendations. They included beefing up the oversight processes. Specifically, the co-authors wrote: “Internal Affairs should also proceed quickly with its current plans to develop an early warning system to identify problem officers.”
The report also directed APD to improve the way its officers dealt with people living with mental illness.
Criticism of APD flared back up last month after Detective Keith Sandy, an officer with a troubled past in law enforcement, and officer Dominique Perez fired three shots apiece at 38-year-old James Boyd, a transient man with paranoid schizophrenia who was illegally camping in the Sandia foothills. Boyd, who was holding two knives but was turning away from the officers at the time he was shot, died in an area hospital the following day.
Martin Chavez was serving the first of three non-consecutive terms as mayor when Walker and Luna delivered their report. New 13 reached out to Chavez on Wednesday to ask him about the report’s conclusions and what city leaders did to implement the recommendations.
In an email, Chavez wrote: “The author (of the report) is simply wrong. We focused very heavily on training, particularly on recognizing mental illness and dealing with those suffering from mental illness. It’s also when we introduced a number of non-lethal alternatives including bean bags and Tazers.”
Albuquerque got a citizen Police Oversight Commission after the Walker-Luna report. That process is currently undergoing painful reforms.
At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Richard Berry said the Boyd shooting, which is now one of several APD cases the FBI is investigating for possible criminal charges, was a “game changer.”
Berry rolled out a number of reforms for his troubled police department including additional training for officers in deescalation techniques, training for dealing with the mentally ill and an improved system to identify problem officers, and said he has asked the DOJ to help him monitor those reforms.
Walker told News 13 that the city should’ve stepped in with stout reforms years ago.
“In the year 2014, no police department should be investigated by the Justice Department,” he said. “They should have fixed the problem themselves. You know where the problem is: in this case, it’s shootings. We know how to fix these problems. They failed. The APD has failed.”
The Berry administration tried to stave off the federal probe.
In August 2011, the mayor vetoed a City Council resolution that would’ve invited the Justice Department in. At the time, he said the language of the resolution may have violated the state Open Meetings Act, which councilors disputed.
A year later, then Police Chief Ray Schultz held a news conference to say a DOJ investigation wasn’t necessary because APD already had in place more than 90 percent of the reforms federal officials had required in other cities where they’d launched police practices investigations.
The Berry Administration even hired a national law enforcement think tank — the Police Executive Research Forum, of which Schultz was a prominent member — to review APD’s policies. PERF made 40 recommendations, including better training and stricter hiring standards. Schultz added another 19 reforms, including sending supervisors to scenes that were likely to get volatile to slow things down and avoid the likelihood of a shooting.
“We got aggressive very quickly on that and we were able to drop that number of officer-involved shootings to half of that number the following year,” Berry said at Wednesday’s news conference.
Police shootings have leveled off in the last three years. But they’ve continued, and several of them have resulted in expensive payouts to settle civil lawsuits. Questions remain about several of the shootings that have occurred since Berry’s reforms went into place.
Families of men shot by APD officers, civil rights leaders and others believe that some APD officers are still too quick to the trigger.
Many of the reforms Berry proposed Wednesday have a similar ring to concerns raised in 1997 by Walker and Luna.
News 13 asked the mayor why it has taken so long to change things at APD, particularly in light of the fact that the city has been warned about problems in the department before.
He said he wasn’t sure whether he’d seen the Walker-Luna report.
“It’s from 1997?” he asked after a reporter’s question.
“It’s the 1997 Walker-Luna Report,” the reporter responded. “It’s posted on the city’s website.”
Berry replied: “Because I haven’t had a recent review of that, or a review at all. I’ll just say this: The challenges that face police departments today, communities today are in some ways, new and unique and in some ways are the challenges that have been facing the police department for decades.”
Walker has studied DOJ police practices investigations across the country. He said they’re reserved only for the most broken police departments.
APD “should have acted on it sooner,” he said. “They should not have waited for the Justice Department to step in.”