In 2014, the United States Department of Justice and the Albuquerque Police Department entered into a consent decree. The Justice Department had found “reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
In other words, the Justice Department found that the APD uses force in a way that violates the rights of the citizens of Albuquerque. Since that time, the Justice Department has been working with the APD to change its use-of-force policies and its real-world procedures.
In 2014, the APD had reported 40 police shootings going back to 2009. Last year, the city reported 53 police shootings going back to 2018, including 17 that year alone, which was a record number. So, the APD’s use of deadly force has not so far been reduced by the consent decree.
That is not to say there has been no progress. A spokesperson for the Justice Department recently applauded the APD for the progress it has made:
“The Justice Department’s consent decree has provided the strong medicine necessary to remedy problems and improve the way policing is carried out across Albuquerque,” she said in a statement. ““We are recognizing the progress that the Albuquerque Police Department has made towards achieving compliance with this consent decree for both the court and the public.”
Part of that recognition was to modify the consent decree to recognize changes the APD has already made. One was to divert 911 calls for mental health concerns from the police to Albuquerque Community Safety, which sends unarmed responders.
How is the consent decree being modified?
What the original consent decree required was for the APD to keep a “sufficient” number of certified crisis intervention responders on staff for mental health calls. Already, more than half of the APD’s patrol officers have completed crisis intervention training.
That will still be necessary because the police will encounter mental health issues on calls and patrols even if Albuquerque Community Safety handles the 911 calls. However, the consent decree will no longer require dedicated staff among the police.
Additionally, the consent decree recognizes that the APD has piloted a civilian use-of-force panel. Previously, only sergeants could review low-level uses of force, but the civilian panel can now review these.
The Justice Department has not waivered in its goal with the consent decree. It is still a mechanism meant to ensure that the APD implements reforms that will allow for constitutional policing.
These changes do not relieve Albuquerque from any of the requirements of the original consent decree. They merely ensure that the decree represents the current efforts at reform.