Albuquerque Police Department citizen oversight worried DOJ changes aren’t public enough

BKG APD police unit cruiser car

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The leader of the new citizen oversight group tasked with overseeing Albuquerque Police is raising new concerns that the public isn’t getting enough of a say in the department’s federally mandated policy changes.

The concern comes from the city’s Police Oversight Board (POB) chairman, Leonard Waites. Meanwhile, APD claims it is following the terms of the agreement and that the public is being involved in the process.

In a letter delivered Thursday to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and APD Chief Gorden Eden, Waites claims the department is making changes that is leaving the public mostly in the dark.

Waites writes, “Based on the information currently available to me, I understand that the City intends to finalize changes to APD policies — including those that directly address problems the Department of Justice found through its pattern and practice investigation — without providing an opportunity for the POB or the community an opportunity to review and comment on the new policies.”

Waites continues, writing, “I believe this would be a mistake,” while asking for the POB and the public to be able to provide feedback before APD Chief Gorden Eden approves policy changes and submits them to a federal monitor.

When Albuquerque signed its federal agreement promising to change APD, Mayor Berry praised the city council’s push to make the public part of the solution through the creation of the new Police Oversight Board.

“(City Council has) really taken a strong measure to put the Police Oversight Board back in place, you know, get that to a point where it’s really going to make a difference,” said Mayor Berry in a November 2014 press conference following the formal signing of the city and DOJ’s federal agreement.

Since February 2015, the nine person Police Oversight Board has been meeting every month, lead by Chairman Waites.

Waites’ letter is of concern to the ACLU’s New Mexico branch in Albuquerque.

“I think the board is making a perfectly legitimate request of the city,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU New Mexico. “The community hasn’t seen much of what’s going on in the reform process and the Police Oversight Board is sort of a representative of the community.”

Albuquerque City Council president Rey Garduño agrees.

“I don’t blame them for being upset, this was not what the intent was when we set up to the Police Oversight Board. We want a very strong board, a board that is very independent,” said Garduño.

According to the federal agreement, APD is supposed to “submit any changes to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency” for review. The Police Oversight Board is a part of that agency’s function.

APD sent KRQE News 13 a statement on Tuesday, responding to the concerns outlined in Waites’ letter:

“The Department is following guidelines set out in the Settlement Agreement. There are many ways for residents to submit suggestions to the Department including through the Community Police Councils, to the Police Oversight Board and Directly to the Department. The Policy and Procedures Review Board is comprised of members of our community and the Police Oversight Board.”

“All policies and procedures must be approved by the Federal Monitor and Federal Judge.”

–Celina Espinoza, Communications Director, Albuquerque Police Department.

APD says the the Policy and Procedures Review Board (PPRB) is comprised of at least five citizens and one Police Oversight Board member. However, that board does not have public meetings.

KRQE News 13’s Chris McKee asked Councilor Rey Garduño if he thought that the PPRB’s input was enough.

“No, because the body of work, as the council put it out to the Police Oversight Board, is (that) you will be spending a lot of your time to look at policy and make sure consultation should occur,” said Garduño. “They are to be consulted, period.”

APD also told KRQE News 13 Tuesday night that some of the department’s policy changes have already been submitted to the federal monitor for review and possible approval. At this point, the department isn’t planning to change that process.

As for the Police Oversight Board, Albuquerque City Council could decide Wednesday who will be the board’s executive director.

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