Case Study: Albuquerque

 

imageAlbuquerque, NM: A Case Study

The following excerpts are from Rachel Aviv’s story on Albuquerque and their police on February 2, 2015. It is truly a case study in how poor policing an continue to go on as long as leadership remains in a void and good cops go along and say nothing.

Here are descriptions of the problems facing Albuquerque.

Could any one of these also be problems in your city?

[Recently, the district attorney has charged two Albuquerque officers with murder in the shooting of a homeless man in a dump. (See my earlier post:https://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/showdown-in-albuquerque/)%5D.

The following are excerpts from her story. The bold descriptions are mine.

“YOUR SON IS DECEASED!”

By Rachel Aviv

Excessive Use of Force

“In the five years before [this] death, the Albuquerque Police Department shot thirty-eight people, killing nineteen of them. More than half were mentally ill. In Albuquerque, a city of five hundred and fifty thousand, the rate of fatal shootings by police is eight times that of New York City…

“Nearly every time, the police announced that the person who had been shot was violent, a career criminal, or mentally ill. On the news, they relayed these really sinister stories about the men, and they’d flash these horrible pictures. They looked frightening…

Poor Recruiting and Hiring

“The crime rate had been declining for nearly a decade, but the city still ranked in the top fifteen per cent in the country. To recruit new officers, the department advertised on billboards throughout the East Coast and the Midwest. In 2007, the department installed a twenty-five-foot billboard on a wall in downtown Manhattan: it featured a panorama of the Albuquerque skyline and promised a five-thousand-dollar hiring bonus, retirement after twenty years, a ‘take home car and more.’

“Nevertheless, the department struggled to find qualified officers. ‘We took a beating from the city council,’ Schultz, the chief of police, told me. ‘They berated us. They kept saying, ‘We’ve given you the money—how come you don’t have those numbers?’

“The department accepted officers from other police forces, even if they had been disciplined or fired, and it sometimes waived the psychological exam.

Steve Tate, the director of training at the Albuquerque Police Academy, said that, after the hiring push, he noticed new cadets ‘exhibiting some characteristics that I thought were a little strange.’ ‘They were not in charge of their emotions,’ he told me. ‘People were breaking down into tears.’ He spoke with the head of the department’s psychological unit, and asked why so many officers seemed psychologically unstable. ‘I could pick up a sense of worry from her,’ he said. ‘She described to me feeling as though they were strong-armed into seating people that they didn’t feel were ready’…

“At meetings with the police chief and his deputies, Tate said he pleaded to reject applicants who seemed erratic. He said that a ‘common phrase was “Well, we got seats open, so let’s give them a try.”‘ The department began accepting candidates whose ‘backgrounds were so bad it was just, like, wow,’ he said. There were cadets who had admitted to crimes and had been repeatedly disciplined in previous jobs. Of the sixty-three officers who joined the Albuquerque police force in 2007, ten eventually shot people.

Two Styles of Policing: One for the Rich and Another for the Poor

“Albuquerque lies at the intersection of two interstate highways, one stretching from California to the East Coast and the other from Texas to Wyoming… A fifth of the residents live below the poverty line, many of them in the southeast part of the city, which is often called the ‘war zone’…

“Gilbert Najar, the director of the police academy in Silver City, New Mexico, who worked for the Albuquerque Police Department for twenty-five years, told me that the department ‘did policing one way in the South Valley, where there were a lot of immigrant families and people of lower socioeconomic status, and we knew we could violate their rights. But we did not dare commit those tactics in the affluent neighborhoods, where we knew they would file complaints on us.’

“Since 1987, the police department has shot at least a hundred and forty-six people…

“Police violence appeared to be a matter of concern only to Albuquerque’s underclass: those who are mentally ill, addicted to drugs, Native American, or Hispanic and poor.

A Department Separate and Closed

“[T]he Department of Justice published a report detailing how the police fostered a ‘culture that emphasizes force and complete submission over safety’…

The Department of Justice then began negotiating a settlement agreement with the city and the police force. In an e-mail last June, the chief of police, Gorden Eden, who was appointed in early 2014, wrote to his dispatch operators, ‘Please comply and advise your people: NO one is to meet with DOJ—no one!! DOJ and its representatives have held several meetings with APD officers. This is a CRITICAL MATTER! No one. Make it clear to everyone, it’s got to stop immediately.’

“The Department of Justice has investigated more than fifteen police departments in the past four years, and its description of police practices in Albuquerque is arguably the most disparaging… a culture of ‘pervasive and deliberate leniency,’ the agreement instructs that supervisors in the department be far more vigilant about documenting misconduct

 Distrust of Research and Outside Experts

“The city has hired a succession of experts, a new research team every few years, to analyze the police department’s use of force, but officials seem to have viewed the act of commissioning a report as a proxy for doing something about the problem. Samuel Walker, an expert in police accountability who was hired in 1996 to co-author one of the reports, after the police killed thirty-two people in ten years, said, ‘When we gave an oral presentation to the city council, I had a very strong impression that many city-council members were not interested’.’ He described his conversation with Martin Chávez, the mayor, as one of the most hostile interviews he’s ever conducted…

“His report highlighted the department’s incompetence in responding to people with mental illnesses. The city lacks a comprehensive mental-health-care system, and cops are often called to assist people in the midst of psychotic episodes. When these people don’t follow the officers’ orders, they are sometimes beaten or shot. Grover, the former sergeant, told me that “there was a running joke within the department: don’t threaten suicide with officers, because they’ll accelerate it.’

“Five years after Walker’s report, and fourteen more fatal shootings, another task force concluded that the department needed to create an oversight system in which officers would suffer consequences for abusing their authority. In 2006, after sixteen more deaths, the city hired a team of consultants to do another report, which noted that ‘many recommendations made in this report are based on issues voiced by the prior consultants that are still valid and should be addressed’..

Signs of Corruption

The city has hired a succession of experts, a new research team every few years, to analyze the police department’s use of force, but officials seem to have viewed the act of commissioning a report as a proxy for doing something about the problem.

When Mayor Richard Berry took office, in 2009, his transition team tried to draw his attention to a speech, delivered by an ethics scholar at an international conference for police chiefs, called ‘How Police Departments Become Corrupt.’ The speech described the four stages of dysfunction in a police force. The transition team said that the department appeared to have entered the third: employees abide by the ‘unwritten rules of internal politics’; leaders are promoted because of their relationships, not their work; and officers ‘rationalize doing unethical things during conversations with each other.’ In its report on the department, the transition team wrote that the department showed at least one sign of having entered the fourth stage, exhibiting a commitment to ‘keep corruption out of the newspapers at any cost.’

“The report contained seven paragraphs about corruption; but, by the time it was submitted to the mayor’s office, in November, 2009, those paragraphs had been deleted. In their place was a discussion of the problem of ‘serial inebriates,’ citizens who drained the department’s resources…

“The department’s rules stated that ‘personnel will not write a police report of alleged officer misconduct in the line of duty either by citizen request or of their own initiative.’ Supervisors were responsible for handling claims of misconduct, a policy that allowed them to screen the account that entered official records.

Negative Subculture

Samson Costales, a retired officer, said, ‘They tell us that we have to cover for each other, because we are a brotherhood, and brothers in blue don’t like rats,’ a mentality that he said he learned from his training officers. ‘You don’t challenge another officer; you don’t testify against him—you lie if you have to. The code existed long before I was a police officer, and I can’t see it ever going away.’

Demeaning Women Including Female Police Officers

“It was widely known that many people in the department were having extramarital affairs with other officers. ‘These guys would pass these female officers from one to another,’ [a sergeant] said.’It all grew from there.’ Cassandra Morrison, a sergeant who retired in 2013, described the department as an ‘old-boys’ club,’ where certain men became untouchable. ‘As women, we were thought of as a subculture,’ she said. ‘If you wanted to move up, you had to kiss somebody’s ass, rub somebody’s elbow, take somebody out to dinner, or have sex with somebody.’ The social hierarchy in the department rewarded an exaggerated masculine ethos which [Chief] Schultz seemed to encourage. When asked by a local reporter about extramarital affairs within the department, he pointed out that his officers were young, attractive, and in good shape. ‘There’s nature at play,’ he explained.

“In the legal-training materials distributed to officers, the lesson on strip searches featured a cartoon of five male officers staring through the window at a silhouette of a naked woman—with a shapely butt and enormous breasts, which she is fondling—the object of their search. The lesson on arresting prostitutes showed a drawing of a hairy transvestite with a single breast, which droops to her potbelly. ‘How d’ya know I ain’t jus another purty face out shoppin’ fer my family?’ she asks the officer who has come to arrest her.

Widespread Cynicism

“Morrison said that officers were socialized to be cynical about civilians. ‘We’re taught to almost dehumanize them,’ she said. ‘It just got to the point where it’s, like, they’re a piece of shit. We don’t care if they raped a baby or were speeding in traffic—everybody’s a piece of shit.’

Professional Growth Not Encouraged

Early in her career, she was often injured, because she fought with people while arresting them. Then she took a forty-hour course offered by the department in crisis-intervention training, a model used by many police departments to help officers communicate with suspects, particularly those who are mentally ill. She never got injured on duty again. She became a senior instructor in the class, but it was held in low regard by many of her colleagues. By 2007, fewer than thirty officers were taking the course each year…

Community-Oriented Policing: Not Walking Your Talk

Najar, the police-academy director, said that the leaders of the Albuquerque police force, like those of many departments around the country, stated publicly that they subscribed to the theories of community policing, a model that encourages officers to embed themselves in the communities they serve, but that those ideals never permeated the culture of the department. The people the cops arrested were usually strangers. Officers approached them with ‘all their fears and biases and prejudices,’ he said.

Avoiding Truth

According to Schultz, a few wayward officers were responsible for the shooting deaths. ‘Like any other organization, you have that two per cent that are making bad decisions,’ he said. In November, 2012, the Department of Justice announced that it would investigate the Albuquerque police force. In a memo, Schultz informed commanders that ‘most likely the DOJ will find that APD has its house in order. . . . Have your officers stand tall and be proud to be part of our great department’…

Lack of Accountability

“In thirty years, no officer in Albuquerque has been indicted for shooting someone. Until recently, officer shootings were evaluated by what the district attorney called an ‘investigative grand jury.’ The jurors did not have the authority to indict, even if they wanted to. They were tasked only with determining whether a shooting was ‘justified’ or ‘not justified.’

“The grand jury lent the process an illusion of objectivity: the district attorney could say that the decision rested with citizens. But prosecutors are dependent on their relationships with police, and the grand jury’s decisions—every shooting in Albuquerque was deemed ‘justified’—may reveal less about the facts of each case than about the way that prosecutors presented it…”

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I encourage you to read the extensive report in the most recent edition of “The New Yorker” at http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/rachel-aviv/all.

More an Albuquerque here: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/when-cops-break-bad-albuquerque-police-force-gone-wild-20150129