Justice News

Remarks by Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta Announcing the Agreement to Reform the Albuquerque Police Department
Albuquerque, NM
United States
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us.  Thank you, Damon, for your leadership and for your incredible work in Albuquerque and across New Mexico. Throughout this investigation and in other matters, our attorneys and staff have worked side-by-side with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to enforce our national civil rights laws, and we are grateful for your partnership and steadfast support.  Thank you, Mayor [Richard] Berry, for joining us to announce this historic agreement today and for your leadership throughout this process. 

I also want to thank Chief [Gorden] Eden, Council President [Ken] Sanchez, Albuquerque Police Officers Association President [Stephanie] Lopez, family members, community leaders, invited guests, and the men and women of the Albuquerque Police Department who are joining us here today.  I thank you all for coming today.

We are here today to announce a landmark settlement agreement between the Justice Department and the city of Albuquerque that resolves our findings on the use of excessive force and avoids a costly and protracted legal battle on the need for reform.  This agreement comes from a mutual commitment by the city and the Department of Justice to ensure that the Albuquerque Police Department works with the community and polices in a manner that respects the rights of residents and that promotes mutual confidence between law enforcement and the community.  Constitutional policing is key to building trust between police departments and the communities they serve, and trust is of course key to ensuring public and officer safety.

Through this agreement, the city agrees to implement comprehensive police reforms in the way that it recruits, selects, guides, trains, supervises, investigates, and disciplines officers to ensure that officers are held accountable for their use of force and are fully supported in carrying out their duties in an effective, constitutional, and professional manner.

In April, the Department of Justice found that the police department engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

We specifically found three patterns of excessive force:

  • Albuquerque officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat and in situations where the conduct of the officers heightens the danger and contributes to the need to use force;

  • Albuquerque officers use less lethal force, including electronic controlled weapons, on people who are passively resisting, non-threatening, observably unable to comply with orders or pose only a minimal threat to the officers; and 

  • Encounters between Albuquerque officers and persons with mental illness and in crisis too

The department also found systemic deficiencies of the Albuquerque Police Department which contribute to these three patterns, including: deficient policies, failed accountability systems, inadequate training, inadequate supervision, ineffective systems of investigation and adjudication, the absence of a culture of community policing and a lack of sufficient civilian oversight.

During our investigation and following our findings letter, the Department of Justice engaged in extensive outreach to the many communities that make up Albuquerque.  We met with persons who experienced the violation of their rights, concerned community, faith and business leaders, and, importantly, hundreds of rank and file officers.  These meetings provided us with essential information on how the problems we identified were perceived by different communities, what the people of Albuquerque value and want in their police department and ideas on the most effective strategies for reform.  These many conversations and interviews guided and informed the agreement we reached and we are grateful for every meeting and conversation. 

Through these consultations and extensive, candid and productive negotiations, we were able to achieve an agreement that meets the goals of effective and constitutional policing; enhanced officer and public safety, greater trust between officers and the communities they serve, and ongoing community participation and community policing.

Since April, we have been engaged in productive conversations with the City to develop a comprehensive and sustainable blueprint for reform.  We are very grateful for the hard work of the chief and his staff, other city officials and the city council for their hard work.  These negotiations were serious, candid and problem-solving.  They set a strong foundation for us to continue to work together for reform.

This is truly a landmark agreement for the people of Albuquerque. 

            This agreement:

  • Strengthens internal review into use of force and requires continuous performance improvement;

  • Requires training that emphasizes de-escalation before force is used;

  • Provides officers with the training and tools they need to provide effective crisis intervention and that allows police to work with community providers and stakeholders to address the underlying needs of individuals who are in crisis or with serious mental illness who are in need of supports and services;

  • Provides guidelines for the effective use of on-body recording systems;

  • Re-focuses the mission of specialized units to ensure that tactical units are trained to save lives in high-risk situations and that investigative units do not stray from their intended purpose and training e trained to save lives in city has agreed to dismantle the Repeat Offender Project, a unit intended to serve investigative functions that had been allowed to become an unofficial tactical unit with special weapons;

  • Removes arbitrary deadlines in the filing of civilian complaints against officers;

  • Supports the city’s efforts to ensure robust, independent, and effective civilian oversight; and

  • Builds on the commitments of surrounding law enforcement agencies that have agreed to investigate officer-involved shootings and other serious uses of force through a multi-agency task force that provides greater reliability and objectivity to sensitive investigations.

The community will be able to measure the success of the agreement as it implemented.  For each of the critical provisions, the agreement requires both the collection of information on compliance as well as on outcomes.  Much of the data will be available to the public so that the critical civilian oversight functions can be performed.  Transparency is an essential component of the agreement and a critical element of reform.

This agreement comes at a time when there is much national attention on the use of deadly force by police officers and whether police departments are meaningfully accountable to the communities that they serve.  Albuquerque is not alone in struggling with these difficult issues.  At the Department of Justice, we are working with more than two dozen cities and towns across the nation, and we know from that experience that the provisions of this agreement will ensure that the city has an effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting.  Today, effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting.  Today’s agreement can and should be a model – a bright spot – for communities looking for a path forward to make their law enforcement more accountable and police practices more just.

We will continue to actively engage all stakeholders in the implementation of the agreement to ensure that Albuquerque’s policing services meets this goal.  A key part of our task is to ensure that the hard work of the many men and women of the police department who serve honorably is not overshadowed by the unlawful behavior of others or by institutional deficiencies that make an already difficult job that much harder.  The Department of Justice will remain actively engaged for as long as necessary to ensure sustainable reform and to help restore the community’s trust in its police department.  We look forward to working with Albuquerque’s elected officials, the chief and his command staff, rank and file officers and the many, many people who have contributed to this investigation and settlement.

Thank You.

Updated August 19, 2016