Groups concerned APD not following DOJ mental health reforms

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – As Albuquerque Police work to meet numerous reforms imposed by the federal Department of Justice, there are new concerns from some that APD isn’t following the rules that have been set in place when it comes to mental health policy and training reform.

The concerns come from a few different Albuquerque community groups who were a part of the settlement agreement process. At large, there are questions about the work being conducted by the division responsible for mental health response training, known as APD’s “Behavioral Sciences Division.”

Some community group representatives believe that APD is shutting out the public’s say on new mental health policy, while others point to a recent city audit that slammed the department’s contract with the person who has enacted much of the new crisis intervention training.

Mental health policy and training became one of the most significant pieces of the DOJ’s settlement agreement with APD when it was reached in October 2014. In its findings, the DOJ said a “significant amount of the force” they reviewed was used against people with mental illness and in distress.

Since 2010, APD has dealt with several high profile fatal shootings involving mental unstable or mental ill individuals, including James Boyd, Alan Gomez, Kenneth Ellis and Christopher Torres. Each of those shootings has resulted in the city settling high dollar figure lawsuits.

But now more than a year into the process of working with a settlement agreement to reform APD, some groups think the city and APD’s top brass are dropping the ball in making change to help officers deal with the mentally unstable.

“There just seems to be a disconnect from the upper level,” said Danny Whatley.

Whatley runs a homeless help organization called “Noon Day Ministries,” but he’s also a co-chair of the city’s “Mental Health Response Advisory Committee” or the MHRAC. Under the settlement agreement. the DOJ ordered the city to create the MHRAC to work with Albuquerque Police.

“Helping with training and policies and just a community involvement, there’s 19 members on this group,” said Whatley of the work that the MHRAC does.

While the MHRAC has met to come up with its own ideas, Whatley says APD administrators, the ones who are re-writing policy, haven’t met with the entire group yet. Without meeting, there’s a fear that APD won’t change significantly in the key area of mental health.

“Law enforcement are not trained and not prepared, not educated to be mental health professions and that’s why we need specialized units, we need community engagement teams and all those others,” said Whatley.

KRQE News 13 questioned APD Chief Gorden Eden about it an interview Thursday.

“I think some of the comments were not accurate, because I have met with some of the physicians that are part of that group privately,” said Eden.

Chief Eden also told KRQE News 13 that he’s planning on meeting the entire group next week, which comes nearly a year after their creation. MHRAC co-chair Danny Whatley confirmed the meeting to KRQE News 13 on Thursday, as well.

“We’re working on that, the chief has actually agreed to meet with us next week, and we’re going to meet with him and hopefully resolve some of these issues,” said Whatley.

Crisis Intervention Training

There is additional concern coming from another group, mental health advocacy organization “Disability Rights New Mexico” (DRNM.) Earlier this week the group sent a letter to the federal judge overseeing APD’s reforms, alerting him of their concerns relating to the Behavioral Sciences Division.

Read: DRNM’s letter to Federal Court >>

One of their main issues is over crisis intervention training (officially called “Crisis Intervention Team [CIT] training”). APD now says that 90% of their officers have received that training. However, a recent city audit blasted the man who was in charge of that training, Dr. Troy Rodgers.

According to the audit, one of the biggest issues was the idea of Rodgers having too much control. Until recently, Rodgers was creating the crisis training protocols, teaching them, and evaluating their effectiveness. According to the audit, the city says that in-part allowed Rodgers to “bypass” internal controls and created several professional conflicts.

Read: City of Albuquerque’s Audit of APD’s Psychologist Contract >>

KRQE News 13 reporter Chris McKee asked Chief Eden if he had any concerns about the CIT training that Dr. Rodgers has provided to the city.

“I don’t, if you’re talking about the quality and the level, none at all,” said Chief Eden. “I actually saw the work that Dr. Rodgers was doing when we were developing the curriculum that was required by the state for House Bill 93.”

However, the city says Rodgers isn’t directing crisis training anymore.

Chief Eden told KRQE News 13 he’s confident in the crisis intervention training officers have received so far because he says many officers have told him that it is working.

“I think it’s important for the community to know that I get feedback from our officers every single day that go through that training, and they tell how great the training was, how much they’ve learned and how much more they’ve learned about de-escalation,” said Chief Eden.

A federal judge listened, but didn’t comment specifically on any of the concerns about mental health training that were expressed in court on Thursday. The Thursday hearing is the first “update” on DOJ reforms that has been publicly released by the federal monitor, Dr. James Ginger.

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