Half of the commission that conducts oversight of the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department has resigned in protest follow a scathing report from the United States Department of Justice.
Oversight commission members Jennifer Barela, Jonathan Siegel and Richard Shine sent letters of resignation to Albuquerque, NM Mayor Richard Berry on Tuesday, leaving just three members of the nine-person panel to assess the police department’s actions. Prior to Tuesday, only six people held seats on the Police Oversight Commission, or POC.
Tuesday’s resignations were announced less than a week after the Justice Dept. accused the APD of what it determined to be excessive abuse force and a culture of abuse and aggression. According to the DOJ’s findings, Albuquerque police have shot 37 men since 2010, killing 23.
“We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies – including insufficient oversight, inadequate training and ineffective policies – contributed to the use of unreasonable force,” the Justice Dept. said. “Albuquerque’s external oversight structure could do much more to address unreasonable uses of deadly force, and it is apparent from our review of documents and interviews that the failure to do so in the past has contributed to the pattern of unreasonable force that we have found.”
Anger directed at the ABD has rekindled in recent weeks after a video of a local police officer shooting and killing a homeless man caught illegally camping in a rural area went viral. Demonstrators responded with a series of rallies in Albuquerque, which the ABD countered by using tear gas against activists and issuing arrests.
Nevertheless, on April 10 the city attorney for Albuquerque effectively confirmed that the POC was absent any and all power when it comes to taking action against officers accused of questionable behavior.
“The City Attorney’s Office addressed the POC on April 10, 2014 and stated that we have no power to decide against the APD Chief or against (Independent Review Officer Robin Hammer’s) findings regarding citizens’ complaints,” Siegel wrote in his letter to resignation. “Due to the city attorney’s actions and the fact that the IRO is not independent from APD and the city, I cannot continue to pretend or deceive the members of our community into believing that our city has any real civilian oversight.”
Between the three letters of resignation, the now-former POC members said they no longer wanted to “play along” or serve as a “rubber stamp” for the chief’s findings, when their ability to conduct actual oversight had been rescinded.
The POC, Barela wrote in her resignation letter, “no longer has the power to conduct any civilian oversight of the Albuquerque Police Department or to review or disagree with the Independent Review Officer because of the current, defective Police Oversight Commission Ordinance and the City Attorney's recent interpretations of the Police Oversight Commission's Rules and Powers.”