Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon and thank you for being here. I am joined by my colleague Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Mayor Richard M. Berry, and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden E. Eden Jr., to announce a new chapter for policing in Albuquerque. The Department of Justice, acting through the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the city of Albuquerque have concluded their negotiations following the department’s April 10, 2014, investigative findings regarding the Albuquerque Police Department. We are announcing today that we have reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement that will resolve this matter without the need for costly and protracted civil litigation.
This agreement will implement sustainable reforms to ensure high quality, effective and constitutional police services for Albuquerque. It is also a roadmap for rebuilding the bond between the community and the police officers who risk their lives every day to protect the public.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta will be going into further detail into some of the innovative and unique features of this comprehensive agreement, but before she does so, I want to address several critical points about this landmark Agreement. First, I want to thank the Albuquerque community for being fully engaged and involved throughout this process. Your contributions during the investigation and following the release of our findings in April have been invaluable. I also want to thank you for your patience during our negotiations. Like any other settlement negotiation, it was important to create the right conditions for candid and direct discussions. As you will see, the agreement is comprehensive and covers all of the eight areas discussed in our findings letter, and it reflects many of the ideas and suggestions you shared so passionately with us.
As many of you know, the DOJ team engaged in an unprecedented level of outreach to a broad cross-section of stakeholders in Albuquerque, including families of individuals killed as a result of officer-involved-shootings; police officers and their families; advocates for civil rights, mental health, the homeless and immigrants; the faith-based community; and the business community. Over the course of DOJ’s involvement, we have held multiple community meetings across the City and interviewed almost 700 individuals. We also had more than 40 meetings attended, in total, by more than 500 police officers, in addition to several meetings with more than 50 members of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. We received and responded to hundreds of calls to our community telephone line and more than 1000 emails sent to our community email box. We also met with numerous stakeholder groups to gain their perspective.
We brought what we learned about the path forward for APD to the negotiation table. As you read through this 106-page agreement, you will find this agreement is specifically tailored to the unique needs of the Albuquerque community and APD. It reflects Albuquerque’s ideas, Albuquerque’s values and Albuquerque’s aspirations for the Albuquerque Police Department.
For example, the agreement provides greater controls in the use and deployment of specialized units. In some cases, units intended to serve investigative functions had evolved into their own tactical units with special weapons, but without the proper supervision or oversight. The agreement requires ongoing monitoring, inspections, and supervision, so that tactical units restore their mission as units dedicated to saving lives in high-risk situations, and that other units do not become unofficial SWAT teams.
One of the investigative units identified as problematic was the Repeat Offender Program, known as “ROP.” The city has agreed to dismantle ROP within 90 days of the Agreement’s effective date. Disbanding ROP is a small piece of the greater effort to ensuring constitutional, effective policing.
I would now like to address the rank-and-file of the Albuquerque Police Department. I want to thank you for your professionalism throughout this process and for recognizing that this process will help bring the support that you need to carry out your duties effectively and in accordance with the laws that you were sworn to uphold. I thank you for the difficult work that you do to keep our people safe and for being in the front line of the reform effort.
The DOJ team spent many hours in early morning briefings and late night shifts listening to your concerns, and we are grateful for your willingness to express your views honestly and constructively. In those discussions, we learned that officers are not afraid of greater accountability for using force, but that they do have serious concerns with perceptions that the disciplinary system is inconsistent and arbitrary. Today’s agreement requires that APD develop a fair and consistent disciplinary system and that supervisors are held accountable for the quality of their reviews. Ms. Gupta will discuss in further detail how the agreement responds to other concerns raised by our officers.
I want to thank the people of Albuquerque for coming together to face these challenges. Another very important, related challenge for Albuquerque involves our behavioral healthcare system. We know that mental health providers and other community stakeholders have formed a city-county task force to explore solutions to the challenges facing many individuals who have serious mental illnesses or who are chronically homeless. That dialogue and action is critical and it will help support APD as it develops and strengthens its specialized responses to people in crisis.
We also commend the inspiring efforts made by the faith community to join together and discuss solutions and facilitate peaceful demonstrations regarding APD and for the work that you do every day to meet the needs of the most vulnerable residents of our city.
We thank the Albuquerque community as a whole because your work has made a difference and this agreement reflects that work. We now stand here with you, with APD and its officers, and the city of Albuquerque to write the next chapter of APD – one that will be guided and given a sense of purpose by the commitments embodied in this Agreement.
The parties have signed a commitment letter outlining next steps. That letter confirms that DOJ and the city of Albuquerque will sign the agreement no later than Nov. 10, 2014, after the agreement is presented by the mayor to the City Council next week for the Council’s consultation and endorsement. The parties will then file the agreement with the United States District Court. Following court approval of the agreement as a court order, the implementation of the agreement will be supervised by an independent monitor who, in turn, will be supervised by the court. The monitor will compile and produce compliance reports that will be publicly available, and will engage with community stakeholders to keep the public informed about the agreement’s implementation on an ongoing basis.
In closing, I want to reiterate that this agreement will advance meaningful and measurable reforms that ensure effective policing and build community trust for our police officers. Throughout this process, the DOJ team and I repeatedly have said that the vast majority of APD officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their physical safety and well-being for the public on a daily basis. We say this because it’s true. Our officers’ work is not easy and their duties often are performed under difficult and dangerous circumstances. We are optimistic about APD’s future because so many of its officers are committed to making our neighborhoods safer places to live, work and play, and doing so with integrity and in compliance with the Constitution and the law. This agreement will help our officers carry out their duties while protecting their safety and their rights.
We are confident that our community will support APD through this reform process because they want APD to succeed. We believe that the people of Albuquerque are committed to being part of the dialogue necessary to ensure that these reforms promote constitutional policing while giving the men and women of the Albuquerque Police Department the support they need to fight crime effectively.
I will now turn the podium over to Vanita Gupta who will discuss some of the more significant features of the agreement.