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Albuquerque Police Department has officially met reform demands

The Albuquerque Police Department was put on notice nine years ago by the United States Department of Justice. A federal court ordered a third-party monitor to observe and report on the operations of the then-troubled department. The court told police leaders and officers that they must change the way they operate.

Problems facing the department nearly a decade ago included allegations of excessive force and a high number of officer-involved shootings, particularly involving the homeless population. For years, Albuquerque police have struggled to meet reform goals set by the federal government for hiring, training and officer performance.

In 2017, Harold Medina, a former top police official, returned. He left the department in 2014 because he was dissatisfied with the way the department was functioning. “Albuquerque was a dumpster fire,” Chief Medina told ABC News.

Medina became chief in 2020, leading the department’s reform. “There were a lot of problems. Crime was at an all-time high.”

PHOTO: Albuquerque police cordon off streets near a protest that blocked one of the main gates at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 2, 2024.

Albuquerque police cordon off streets near a protest that blocked one of the main gates at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 2, 2024.

Susan MontoyaBryan/AP

Recalling little officer oversight and low morale, Medina said it was clear the department needed to make changes or face the DOJ takeover and the city losing control of its own forces from police.

“I knew what had to be done. We had to put our foot down on our people and say, ‘This is our expectation,'” Medina said.

After years of work, the court-appointed independent monitor found that the Albuquerque Police Department is now in full compliance with the Justice Department’s consent decree that required certain reforms.

The department changed its training to focus more on de-escalation tactics and crisis intervention and implemented the use of body-worn cameras.

Academy classes are now exponentially larger than they were a few years ago and officer morale has improved significantly, according to Medina.

The department hired more officers this year than in the past 20 years.

Over the next two years, Albuquerque will have to show the courts that it can police itself. The chief said he wanted to put in place a system of internal self-control similar to that put in place by the Federal Court.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico agree that progress has been made over the past nine years, but they say the work is not yet done.

“There are still problems at APD,” said Daniel Williams, a policing policy advocate at the ACLU of New Mexico. “We’re still seeing far too many deaths among our neighbors. New Mexico has one of the highest rates of people killed by police per capita in the country and APD accounts for a significant number of them,” Williams said.

Chief Medina said many of today’s police shootings involve armed individuals who are suffering mental health crises. He believes that to significantly reduce police-involved shootings, police in Albuquerque and nationwide need more resources to deal with the mentally ill.

The ACLU of New Mexico plans to monitor Albuquerque police to ensure the department does not reverse the progress it has made once it polices itself.

Preventing a rollback is also a priority for police leaders and the changes appear to be paying off. “We’re seeing a lot more work from our agents,” Medina said proudly. “We wanted to have a reform process that was sustainable beyond the presence of the Department of Justice and we wanted a process that also allowed for proactive policing.”

ABC News

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