OPA – The Original Post (April, 2016)

Originally Posted on APD LEGAL 

Faced with a persistent inability to fashion adequate policies to support effective reform of APD, the City of Albuquerque has secretly and suddenly created a brand new administrative agency: The Office of Policy Analysis, or OPA. Much more than an “office” within APD, the new agency is a super policy-making body, headed by a former federal judge, with the power to review, revise, and create new rules for the troubled Albuquerque Police Department.

Some facts about the new Policy Analysis group were revealed by a member and confirmed by the Director of the City’s year-old Civilian Police Oversight Board (CPOB) at the Board’s monthly meeting last week. But many questions remain unanswered, such as who is on the policy board, who appoints members, who votes, and with what authority?

Headed by former U.S. Magistrate Judge Lorenzo F. Garcia – who contracted with APD about a month ago to take over the policy-revision process – the new policy board signals a major alteration in plans for implementation of the Settlement Agreement. The first meeting was held on April 12, 2016. Another meeting is scheduled for April 26 at 8:30 a.m. at the Wells Park Community Center.

The Settlement Agreement between the City and the DOJ prescribed a policy review process largely controlled by an in-house APD Policy Review Committee (PRC). City officials have also used a Standard Operating Procedure Review Committee (SOPRC) to review policies. Both City committees were closed to public scrutiny and both were deemed ineffective by almost everyone involved.

Although the PRC eventually allowed an Oversight Board member to sit on that committee, the head of the Oversight Board’s Policies Subcommittee, Susanne Brown, reported that the PRC seldom took any effective action to review or revise policies. The other committee, apparently referred to as “The Four Lieutenants” was deemed similarly ineffective.

But the news that Judge Garcia and the City attorneys had put together a new “first stop” administrative body to review policies

appeared to be a complete surprise to at least some of the CPOA Board members on Thursday, when Brown read a draft of a letter

she had written proposing to bring OPA under the control of the Civilian Oversight Board. She was most concerned about the need for

openness and transparency.

Brown first related what she had learned about the City’s new “third process” of policy review:

What happened is, from what I understand, I wasn’t – you know none of us were involved in the discussions before it went public, okay, but what happened was there was finally a public meeting with City Counsel and Dr. Ginger. Leonard was there, David was there, I was there, Ed was there. And at that meeting we heard about a third policy committee that has been set up, and it’s called OPA, Office of Policy Assessment. And that committee at that time, the only member of the committee that was talked about was Judge Lorenzo Garcia, who’s a retired magistrate judge. Since then the OPA has been filled out with various members of APD and a couple names I’ve heard that might be the lawyer who will be on the committee. And the committee is tasked with looking at the overarching principles related to policy. And it’s now the first-stop committee. I asked at the time, I asked the City Attorney, Jessica, about whether this would be an open meeting, public meeting, etcetera, and where it would be housed, and she didn’t know the answer to either one. The committee, I hear, met for the first time this week.

Director Harness then disclosed that he had attended the first OPA meeting.

According to Harness, OPA’s first priority is the City’s Use of Force Policy. That critical policy had finally been approved by Dr. Ginger, but doubts remain about whether the new policy is actually any better than the old one. Earlier in the meeting Brown had summarized and listed some of the subcommittee members’ concerns about the policy.

Assuring the Civilian Oversight Board members who were worried that they and the public would continue to be excluded from the policy-making process, Director Harness assured them that new process would allow their participation.  The makeup of that committee, “will have two voting members, one from CPOA and one from POB. The first full meeting is scheduled for April 26th.”

The committee’s meetings would be closed to the public, Harness said, but the public would be informed by the CPOA representatives, who would report on the OPA meetings at the Oversight Board’s public meetings. Also, the OPA board would be inviting “stakeholders,” like the ACLU, to attend its meetings when policies they were concerned about are considered.

The public can go to the POB meetings to hear about what the POB has learned. Is that part of the public Process?

The creation of OPA, the appointment of the new board members, and the board’s first meeting were accomplished without public notice or media attention. The establishment of the new agency took place over the last few weeks; so quietly that it has still not been announced by the City or reported in the media. At the same time the OPA has moved so quickly that the new board is already making important decisions about policies and practices, even before all the board members have been seated.

APD had been required to create and maintain Community Policing Councils, one for each Area Command, to facilitate communication and cooperation between the communities and the APD. Some of those who had volunteered to serve on the CPCs had been highly critical of the lack of coordination and the refusal of Chief Eden to respond to them, making the Policing Councils ineffective and frustrating the citizen volunteers.

According to Harness, it “came to light at the OPA meeting that it’s their hope that the Community Policing Councils begin to communicate and begin to make their policy recommendations through the Police Oversight Board.” The City Attorney, Jessica Hernandez, and APD’s head of Policy and Planning Bill Slauson had suggested the changes, which Harness said surprised him because he “didn’t even know the CPCs were on their radar.”

The City Attorney, Jessica Hernandez, and APD’s head of Policy and Planning Bill Slauson had suggested the changes, which Harness said surprised him because he “didn’t even know the CPCs were on their radar.”

Last Thursday evening the Oversight Board discussed the possibility they would be hosting the Policing Councils, but it was not clear when or how the OPA directives would be implemented. Hearing the plans for the Community Policing Councils to process their policy suggestions to APD through the Police Oversight Board, CPOA member Joanne Fine said, “so they establish an organization, then tell them to communicate through us, when they won’t communicate with us. Makes no sense.”But Harness responded that the new “collaborative effort” would be good for both the Oversight Board and the communities.

Story Still Developing …