ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The new citizen’s group set up to oversee issues with APD met for the first time Thursday night in a meeting that lasted five hours. There was a lot of ground to cover – and lots of discussions about how they’re supposed to operate.
“That’s usually how it works when you set up a board like this. How are we going to do our job is what we’re really trying to get to,” said Leonard Waites, president of the Police Oversight Board.
Turnout was low – there were less than a dozen people in the crowd for most of the meeting.
Waites said he hopes more people participate in meetings in the future, saying public input is crucial for the POB to work well.
At the end, one of the nine board members said she’d no longer be able to participate, citing health concerns.
Citizens Police Oversight Agency
The city of Albuquerque created the Citizens Police Oversight Agency after the previous citizen’s oversight group – the Police Oversight Commission – was found to be ineffective. The CPOA is made up of the Police Oversight Board, which is made up of nine community members, and an administrative office.
The administrative office reviews citizen complaints against police officers and decides whether the complaints are substantiated. The Police Oversight Board than reviews those findings, and either approves or amends them.
Discussion of Citizen Complaints
At Thursday night’s meeting, the POB had nine complaint findings to review. They only publicly discussed two of the findings, and motioned to approve the rest.
The board voted unanimously agreed to only discuss the complaints that a board member specifically requests to pull out and discuss during the meeting.
“If the public can get them on the website, I think that’s okay,” said board member Beth Mohr before the vote. “I would never want to lose our right, though to pull them out and have a discussion on them.”
However, the citizen police complaint findings on the agenda were not available on the Civilian Police Oversight Agency website. Mohr said she wants the findings to be available to the public ahead of time, whether on the website or as a handout at meetings.
CPOA Acting Executive Director Robin Hammer said the public can IPRA the findings letters for cases on the agenda which were not discussed during the meeting. She also said the determinations would be posted on the CPOA website sometime after the meeting.
Both Mohr and Hammer agreed that getting the public access to the complaint findings on the agenda is a “work in progress.”
Discussion of Findings
In one of the Citizen Police Complaint cases that was discussed, the CPOA determined a female officer used a federal law enforcement database to pull a woman’s address, to give to that woman’s ex-husband. The woman who made the complaint had a domestic violence restraining order against her ex-husband.
Board members asked Hammer why there weren’t any recommendations for discipline listed in the letter. Hammer said how the CPOA makes discipline recommendations is an item in a lawsuit the APOA filed against the City. She said the CPOA would have to wait for a judge to decide how that would resolve.
They also wanted to know why the findings letter didn’t indicate a possible federal crime had been referred to an outside agency.
“Isn’t using NCIC for unofficial purposes a crime?” board member Scott Wilson asked Hammer.
“It is a crime, but that portion was referred to the NCIC agency, through the state, for them to further investigate,” Hammer said. “Our agency doesn’t investigate crimes.”
“Wouldn’t that be appropriate information to be in this letter?” Wilson asked.
“It could be,” Hammer said.
“If I were the complainant, I would feel a lot better knowing the federal agency is investigating the crime that’s basically been sustained,” Wilson said.
Board member Joanne Fine said the findings letter didn’t indicate the gravity of the officer’s actions.
“This, literally, could cost someone their life,” Fine said. “This is such a serious crime, such a serious infraction, and I didn’t get the seriousness of this from the letter ”
Hammer said it’s ultimately up to the Chief to decide whether the officer will be disciplined.