Monday, November 3, 2014

The APD Consent Decree

In the midst of all the Hallowe'en festivities last Friday, the Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque announced and released the long-awaited Consent Decree regarding reforms of the Albuquerque Police Department. Oh. That. Right.

The Decree itself is turgid and legalistic and extremely detailed with regard to some of the reforms that are to be instituted, vague as can be about others, and it is so filled with loopholes that literally nothing need change at all with regard to the bloody business that touched off the DoJ involvement in Albuquerque if APD doesn't want to change.

Though I've seen some positive responses to it from victims and survivors of APD's bloodlust, it's not entirely clear at all that this document will inspire much more than cosmetic reforms over the short or the long term.

What it does do, and what I've said all along the intent of DoJ Consent Decrees has been, is "professionalize" the police force and make manifest the right ways to go about killing and imprisoning and suppressing the Rabble rather than perpetuate the wrong ways. That's why there is so much focus on training and reporting, and so little focus on the problems that caused the uproar in the first place.

But there are potential positives, at least from the surface view that most of us have about these things. The Repeat Offender Project is to be disbanded. The APD killers associated with it will no doubt be reassigned. This is progress on one front, but quite possibly it will have the effect of spreading the infection throughout the force. It remains to be seen. As it was, many of the deaths caused by APD were the result of ROP actions. "Human Waste Disposal," right? They called it an ad hoc SWAT team, but their killer reputation was one of the chief complaints from the public. So, ROP will go.

A stronger mental health component and understanding will be instituted through training and the development and deployment of teams of Crisis Intervention experts. Or at least so-called experts. Community involvement in mental health oversight and responsibility will be encouraged through commissions, panels and workshops. Issues surrounding homelessness will be addressed more fully. All of which is good, but I hate to see them in the hands of police, in part because police don't have the mindset or the tools to effectively handle people in crisis -- mental health crisis or otherwise -- except with violence and too often the use of lethal force. That's why so many people in crisis get dead when the police are called. Their viewpoint regarding people in crisis is to meet it with as much violence and use of force as they deem necessary to control the situation and neutralize the threat they perceive to themselves or to others.

That means tasing and shooting people to death -- regardless of reforms.

So maybe the APD will come to understand the nature of mental illness and homelessness, they might even learn details about drug and alcohol conditions affecting behavior, but will that knowledge lessen the killing? Probably not.

What can be helpful is the deployment of Crisis Intervention teams any time a person-in-crisis situation is identified. The problem has been that the killer cops are also deployed at the same time. This has been one of the problems with calling 911 or suicide hotlines in cases of persons-in-crisis. Once the call is made, the dispatcher or counselor is required by policy and protocol to assign police not health care professionals to follow up. If there is any mention of death threats or arms of any kind, then the police assign killers to the case, sometimes whole teams of killers in SWAT gear. This is wrong and absurd, and it doesn't appear that these protocols are changed by the terms of the APD Consent Decree. So long as the police are assigned to be the first responders in such crisis situations, and indeed continue to prevent intervention until the threat is neutralized, we'll continue to see the killings of people in crisis.

Most of the 106 page Consent Decree consists of detailed training and reporting requirements, none of which is particularly onerous -- though it will probably be seen that way by some of the line force and supervisors who will have to comply. Or maybe not.

They may comply but not really. They report but lie. They may... we could go on and on.

The point is that the Consent Decree may or may not lead to a lessening of the Albuquerque Police Department's bloodletting. It doesn't really address that problem. It addresses other problems that were identified, mostly regarding the professionalization of the force to ensure that it operates according to "best practices" in the field.

That may or may not be what those who have given so much and worked so hard and long have sought.

The timelines are also problematical. A year is typical for instituting some of the reforms, but up to four years is mandated for others. This means there doesn't have to be any immediate change -- again unless APD wants to. Past practice can continue and not be punished. In fact, there is no provision or recommendation in the Consent Decree for addressing egregious behavior that occurred prior to the Consent Decree and only modest recommendations regarding future egregiousness. Internal matters stay internal, in other words, and while complaints might -- or might not -- be addressed more transparently and fully in the future, they won't necessarily result in any action against offending officers.

There is still the presumption that the officers are not the offenders. This presumption can have the effect of perpetuating the impunity that police have long arrogated to themselves.

On the other hand, Community Oriented Policing is to be instituted (according to reports, it was once the norm in Albuquerque but was abandoned by a previous administration). This doesn't necessarily reduce impunity, but it can have the effect of integrating police into the fabric of communities rather than them being seen as outside occupation forces.

In some cities, a key transformation has been Community Oriented Policing which has the effect of completely altering the relationship between police and residents to the point where "protection and service" is a fact, not merely a slogan. According to some of what I've read, there was a time when this approach to policing was the standard in Albuquerque. It may be again. We'll see.

I'd rather be positive than not. But it will be up to the police and the city administration to show good faith and actually implement the recommendations and requirements set forth. So far, they have been resistant and reluctant. Time will tell.

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