National News

Albuquerque Police Department officially met reform requirement

todayMay 14, 2024

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(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) — The Albuquerque Police Department was put on notice nine years ago by the United States Department of Justice. A federal court ordered a third-party monitor to watch and report back on how the then-troubled department operated. Police leadership and officers were told by the court they had to make changes to how they were operating.

The problems the department faced nearly a decade ago included claims of excessive force and a high number of officer-involved shootings, especially involving the homeless population. For years, Albuquerque PD struggled to meet the federally set goals of reform in hiring, training and officer performance.

In 2017, former high-ranking police official Harold Medina returned. He had left the department in 2014 due to being unhappy with how the department was operating. “Albuquerque was a dumpster fire,” Chief Medina told ABC News.

Medina went on to become chief in 2020, leading the reformation of the department, “There were a lot of issues going on. Crime was at an all-time high.”

Recalling little oversight of officers and low morale, Medina said it was clear, that the department had to make changes or face the DOJ taking over and the city losing control of its own police force.

“I knew what needed to be done. We needed to put our foot down on our people and say, ‘This is our expectation,'” Medina said.

After years of work, the court-appointed independent monitor found the Albuquerque Police Department is now in full compliance with the Justice Department’s consent decree which mandated certain reforms.

The department has changed its training to focus more on de-escalation tactics, crisis intervention and implemented the use of body-worn cameras.

Academy classes are now exponentially larger than they were a few years ago and officer morale has markedly improved, according to Medina.

The department has hired more officers this year than it has in the last 20 years.

For the next two years, Albuquerque will have to show the courts that it can monitor itself. The chief said he wants to implement an internal self-monitoring system similar to what the federal court had set up.

Officials at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico agree that progress has been made in the last nine years but they say the work is not over yet.

“There are still problems at APD,” said Daniel Williams, policing policy advocate at the ACLU of New Mexico. “We’re still seeing far too many of our neighbors die. New Mexico has one of the highest per capita rates of people killed by police in the country and APD accounts for a significant number of those,” explained Williams.

Chief Medina said many of today’s police shootings involve armed individuals who are suffering from mental health crises. It is his view to significantly reduce officer-involved shootings police in Albuquerque and nationwide need more resources to deal with the mentally ill.

The ACLU of New Mexico plans to monitor Albuquerque police to make sure the department does not backslide on the progress it has made once it is monitoring itself.

Preventing a backslide is top of mind for police leadership as well and the changes seem to be paying off. “We are seeing a lot more work from our officers,” Medina said proudly. “We wanted to have a reform process that is sustainable beyond the Department of Justice being here and we wanted a process that also allowed for proactive policing.”

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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