Major hurdles to reforming the Albuquerque Police Department include getting rank-and-file officers to “buy in” to the coming reform of the department and getting critics to believe change is happening.
That’s a dynamic James D. Ginger, the head of Public Management Resources Inc., has seen before while overseeing court-enforced police department reforms in Pittsburgh, New Jersey and elsewhere.
“We build trust,” Ginger said. “We spend a lot of face time with officers and community groups. We do exactly what we say we’re going to do.”
In a Journal interview before the firm’s selection was announced by federal and city officials Tuesday afternoon, Ginger said fixing a police department “isn’t rocket science.”
“We know what we need,” he said. “You need good policies. You need training based on those policies. You need supervision to carry through that training. And you need to measure the results.”
The South Carolina-based company will oversee and report to the federal court on reforms at APD over the next four years.
Ginger said the revamp of APD is “one of the most wide-ranging we have seen.”
The city entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice last year after DOJ found APD displayed a “pattern and practice” in the excessive use of force and fatal force and had a “culture of aggression.”
There were 40 officer-involved shootings between 2010 and 2014, 27 of them fatal.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg recently filed an open charge of murder against two APD officers for the shooting death of homeless mentally ill camper James Boyd last March in the Sandia foothills. It was the first time in her 14-year tenure that Brandenburg filed charges against an officer in a shooting and the first time an officer has been charged in a fatal shooting in at least 50 years.
The shooting also is under investigation by the FBI.
Ginger said “use of force” in police policies must be clearly defined and combined with strict reporting policies. Measuring whether the changes in use-of-force policies are having an impact will be part of the systems Ginger’s firm will help set up.
Ginger is a former police officer who holds a doctorate degree in public administration.
“We’re interested in educating,” he said. “Everyone will know what counts as a use-of-force incident. They will know how that will be reported.”
U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said Ginger’s company was the top pick made independently by the city and DOJ out of the list of 17 applicants that submitted proposals.
“We felt that PMR brought a can-do attitude to the monitor team that matches our willingness to succeed in this important work,” Mayor Richard J. Berry said.
“We have an aggressive schedule that we have put forward, and we needed a monitor that brought a depth of experience and an urgency to help us stay on schedule. We feel PMR has the experience and the ability to work with us while holding us all accountable and that is an important combination.”
The company also was one of three recommended by APD Forward, a coalition of community groups that includes the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union.
Martinez said use-of-force policies and training are a big part in the early stages of the agreement.
“A lot needs to be done in the first year,” he said.
Ginger and his team of former police officials, management trainers and attorneys will be introduced to U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack on Wednesday.
Brack also will hear from attorneys seeking changes in the settlement agreement, including APD Forward and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. It will be up to Brack to set a timetable for approving the settlement agreement.
The agreement also contains what could be viewed as a widespread secrecy policy that city officials said they would address as there was no intent to exempt the city from the Inspection of Public Records Act.
Pittsburgh was one of the first large cities in the country to come under a court-ordered reform agreement with the DOJ.
Robert McNeilly, former chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, saw the department move through the agreement to compliance.
“There are two variants to the successful resolution of a court-ordered agreement – a committed chief of police and a fair monitor,” he said in a telephone interview. “You have a fair monitor.”
McNeilly, who said he doesn’t know APD Chief Gorden Eden, said he believes Ginger wrote many of the standards for court oversight that other monitors follow in police department reform.
“He came in and explained exactly what we had to do, how to do it and to comply with the court orders,” he said.
McNeilly said trying to complete the APD reforms in four years is “doable.”
“APD is different from other cities,” Ginger said. “They started to make changes before the monitor was brought in, so they have a head start.”