Police union should support settlement

The New Mexico Conference of Churches believes that all workers – including police officers – possess a fundamental right to dignity, safety and fairness in the workplace and should be able to bargain collectively with management to protect these interests.

We also believe that police officers should treat the people they serve with dignity, humanity and fairness.

We therefore support the Albuquerque Police Officers Association’s right to intervene in the settlement agreement between the Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque, but strongly disagree with the objections they have raised concerning the proposed reforms.

In a recent filing before the court, the APOA lodged over two dozen objections to key provisions in the settlement agreement, claiming that they violate the terms of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city. However, the city of Albuquerque has filed a response, telling the court in no uncertain terms that the APOA’s objections “are based on conjecture, speculation … and should be overruled in their entirety.”

That’s strong stuff coming from the only party that’s actually being sued.

Perhaps the city is defending the terms of the settlement agreement so vigorously because they understand how critical it is that these reforms be implemented.

The DOJ’s investigation found that the Albuquerque Police Department had a “pattern and practice” of violating people’s civil rights by the use of excessive force. There has been a fundamental breakdown of trust between APD and the community it serves, and the practices that have brought us to this point cannot be allowed to continue.

This is why we find it especially troubling that the APOA is willing to dismantle the very core of this agreement on the “speculative” basis that it violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city.

Here are some of the reforms that the officers’ union has objected to:

• Establishing a civilian oversight body;

• Creating a more rigorous process for the investigation of use of force;

• Creating an early warning system to flag problem officers;

• Strengthening the enforcement and accountability of APD’s body camera policy;

• Providing mental health evaluations for officers.

Removing these reforms would gut the settlement agreement, rendering it useless.

These proposed reforms are far from extraordinary. In fact, most of these commonsense steps were included in recent settlement agreements between the DOJ and other problematic police departments like those in Los Angeles, Seattle and New Orleans.

Essentially, the APOA is asking for any reforms to be cosmetic and calling for a return to business as usual.

But the status quo is unacceptable. The status quo is what brought us to this place of crisis where both officers and the community regard one another with hostility and mistrust.

We need a rigorous reform process to bring APD back into step with the community.

It is our fervent hope that the rank-and-file officers of APD will recognize the tremendous potential that this settlement agreement holds for the city and join in the reform process as constructive partners.

We know that this process will not be easy, but few things worth doing ever are.