ALBUQUERQUE – The union that represents police officers in New Mexico’s largest city has launched a $70,000 campaign aimed at highlighting Albuquerque’s persistent crime problems.
The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association is using billboards and television, radio and social media ads to urge the public to tell city leaders that the focus should be on crime rather than wasting money on continued oversight by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department and the city reached an agreement in 2014 to overhaul the police department in response to a series of deadly shootings that pointed to patterns of excessive force, constitutional violations and a lack of training and oversight of its officers. The terms of the agreement included new training and protocols for investigating officer shootings.
The union’s campaign comes several months before a mayoral election in which crime already has emerged as the biggest issue.
Union president Shaun Willoughby told the Albuquerque Journal that the union has not yet considered who it will endorse.
As part of the campaign, the public is being asked to tell city leaders that they believe in police reform and that the department has made progress.
“I’m urging you to fight for this city, stand up to the DOJ, and help us save the city we love, before it’s too late,” reads an email template.
Willoughby said the union isn’t trying to get the city to end the reform process, but it is asking for support for “common sense reforms that allow our officers to succeed.”
For oversight to end, the city has to be in full compliance with the court-approved agreement for two years.
In the most recent report from the independent monitor, the city was at 100% primary compliance, which refers to the creation of policies; 91% secondary compliance, regarding training of officers; and 64% operational compliance on whether officers and supervisors are acting according to procedures and being corrected when they don’t.
Peter Simonson with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said there have been benefits to the federal oversight.
“We have a much better system for moderating interactions between law enforcement and people who are mentally ill, people who are living on the streets,” Simonson said. “We now have a (SWAT) unit that is operating according to tactical plans, that is much more organized and professional than before the DOJ came to town. We now have a Use of Force policy that probably stands among the better, more rigorous policies in the country.”
Still, he said more work is needed, specifically when it comes to holding officers accountable when they violate internal policies.
Police Chief Harold Medina acknowledged that the internal affairs process is cumbersome and investigations take time and manpower away from the field. He said he’s brought this up to the DOJ, is trying to find ways for it to be more efficient and is trying to hire civilian investigators to staff the Internal Affairs Division because few police officers want to take on that role.
Medina said policy revisions in particular need to be reviewed by multiple parties before they can be implemented and that the DOJ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Whether it’s me the chief, or somebody else is the chief or this mayor or another administration, they better understand they have to contend with DOJ and they can’t terminate this,” Medina said. “It’s not a contract. It’s a court order.”