Anyone who’s ever taken home a less-than-stellar report card knows, finessing the letter grades is easy. Look, Ma, at these As and Bs… that F, well, I can explain that.
It’s when the teacher adds a note to the letter grades that trouble can arise.
Take, for example, the most recent report issued by Federal Monitor James Ginger on the process of reforming the culture and practices of the Albuquerque Police Department. When it comes to making up policies, the feds gave the APD an A+ – 98%, while for training young cops to those principles, the score was an A- – 91%. But when it came to real-world APD practices, “whether officers and supervisors are acting according to procedures and being corrected when they don’t,” the monitors’ rating dropped to 64%, a F on most report cards.
And then came the teacher’s note: “If this were simply a question of leadership, I would be less concerned,” Ginger wrote, “But it’s not. It’s a question of leadership. It’s a question of command. It’s a question of supervision. And it’s a question of performance on the street. So as a monitor with a significant amount of experience, … I would have to say we’re in more trouble here right now today than I’ve ever seen.”
A more colloquial translation came from an Albuquerque activist, Robby Heckman: “the [APD] culture,” he said, “is eating the reforms for lunch.” It’s a well-documented culture of aggressive use of force that brought the federal monitors to Albuquerque in 2014. Six years later, everyone seems to agree, while some things have changed, many of the worst things seem to have remained the same, particularly violent and abusive treatment of people who are mentally ill.
So, potentially significant changes may be happening. The Justice Department is negotiating with the city over a change from mere oversight and monitoring to – when it comes to most cases of use of force – direct intervention by outside investigators who would decide if force was properly used and hold people accountable if it wasn’t.
When this idea was broached to Federal Judge James Browning, who is overseeing the police reform case, he called it a “tremendous loss of sovereignty and self-direction by the city.” But he and City Hall seem resigned to it. “Heal thyself” as a recipe for reform of the APD has failed.
Elise Kaplan is the criminal justice reporter for the Albuquerque Journal.