The Albuquerque, N.M., police department has been under a reform agreement with the Department of Justice since 2014, after an investigation following a string of controversial police killings found the department had violated the Constitution and demonstrated “patterns of excessive force.” The agreement called for changes to the department’s policies on use of force, training and transparency, as well ongoing review by civilian panels and an independent monitor, but the department has repeatedly failed to comply with reforms, the Huffington Post reports. A court-appointed monitor, James Ginger, has filed five reports with the judge overseeing the case, each one ripping the department for its obstruction. The most recent report, filed in May, accused the agency of being in “deliberate noncompliance.” “There seems to be no one person, unit, or group with responsibility and command authority to ‘make change happen,’” wrote Ginger.
Federal consent decrees and civilian oversight are held up as strong tools to get misbehaving police departments to right ship. Albuquerque’s experience shows the agreements can be toothless and fragile. They don’t work without the cooperation of the police and, perhaps more important, city government. It’s been more than three years since the agreement was signed, and oversight officials and community activists say the department’s leaders remain accountable to no one. The police department may occasionally give lip service to the oversight board, but it doesn’t genuinely acknowledge the mandate of civilian oversight, said Ed Harness of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, which reviews officer-involved shootings and complaints against officers. “We look at this consent decree and the department as if they’re going through the stages of grief,” he said. “The command staff is still in that phase of denial, and they haven’t moved on to acceptance. So that’s where the resistance is. They deny that there are any problems, they deny that there were ever problems, and they don’t feel that change is necessary.”