Welcome to the City of Albuquerque

VI. The Public Safety Advisory Board

The Role of the Public Safety Advisory Board

The Public Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) is the second form of citizen review or oversight of the APD. Unlike the Independent Counsel, the PSAB has no direct involvement in the complaint process. Instead, the PSAB is designed to provide citizen oversight of general policies and procedures. In this regard it is designed to implement the policy review function of citizen review of the police which is discussed in Chapter Nine.

The PSAB consists of eleven members appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of City Council. One member is appointed from each Council district, and the mayor appoints the remaining two members. The Mayor appoints the Chair of the PSAB. Members serve three year terms.

The PSAB is authorized by statute " to conduct studies, receive information, and make recommendations " regarding the "policies, practices, and procedures" of the police, fire, and corrections and detention departments [emphasis added]. Its jurisdiction includes but is not limited to such issues as the "treatment of victims of crime, police, fire and corrections community relations, staffing, training, equipment and other concerns that may be specified from time to time by the Mayor or Council." The PSAB is also directed to " seek information from all sectors of the community ," including the three departments under its jurisdiction. Finally, the PSAB is directed to meet regularly with the heads of the three departments.

The mandate of the PSAB is extremely broad . The enabling ordinance sets no limits on what "policies, practices, and procedures" it may investigate and make recommendations about. Moreover, the PSAB is designed to be a proactive rather than a merely reactive agency. It is authorized "to conduct studies" and directed to "seek information from all sectors of the community."

Evaluation Methodology

Our study of the PSAB consisted of six different activities. First, we reviewed all of the minutes of PSAB meetings from 1989 to the present. We also reviewed the report on police use of force produced by the PSAB in 1991.

Second, we interviewed several current members of the PSAB, including the current Chairperson.

Third, we interviewed a wide variety of community representatives who have an interest in police problems about their experiences with and perceptions of the PSAB.

Fourth, we interviewed the Chief of Police and other members of the APD command staff regarding their experiences with and perceptions of the PSAB.

Fifth, we included several questions about the PSAB in our survey of rank and file police officers.

Sixth, we attended the January, 1997 meeting of the PSAB.

Summary of Findings

On the basis of our research, we conclude that the Public Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) has failed in its mission to provide oversight of the Albuquerque Police Department . The PSAB has not effectively utilized its statutory powers. Indeed, it has hardly used its powers at all . The PSAB is almost universally criticized by the leaders of community groups and leaders of the police department.

In many respects the PSAB is dysfunctional in that instead of resolving tensions between the community and the police and providing an avenue for addressing problems it tends to aggravate existing tensions . The problem is that it promises citizens an avenue of redress for their grievances but fails to deliver on that promise. The result is that PSAB meetings are the scene of angry confrontations that do not lead to meaningful changes in police practices and leave virtually everyone feeling worse about police-community relations and about the PSAB itself.

Perceptions of the PSAB

by people we interviewed. Community representatives, including the leaders of local civil rights organizations and attorneys in both private and public practice, characterized the PSAB as "worthless," "useless," and "a paper tiger." These individuals expressed much emotion when making this judgment. Many conveyed a strong feeling of betrayal. As we explain below, there is a strong sense that the PSAB has promised a remedy for police-related problems and then failed to deliver on those promises.

Leaders of the police department were also highly critical of the PSAB, expressing the feeling that it was "dysfunctional" and not a useful mechanism for addressing concerns about police practices. The experience of police officials has been, ironically, very similar to that of their critics. Police officials also regard PSAB meetings as a forum for public criticism of the APD without providing a meaningful process for addressing problems and resolving grievances.

Our survey of rank and file police officers found that many officers do not have a correct understanding of the role of the PSAB. Nearly half (44.5%), for example, incorrectly believe that the PSAB reviews the investigations of citizen complaints by Internal Affairs (Table 6-1). About a quarter (22.8%) incorrectly believe that the PSAB itself investigates citizen complaints. About thirty percent (29.5%) incorrectly believe that the PSAB recommends discipline in citizen complaints.

On the positive side, almost all of the officers (94%) correctly believe that the PSAB does not administer discipline to police officers. Most of the officers (69.8%) correctly understand that the PSAB reviews police department policy, and 65.8 percent believe that it makes policy recommendations. On both issues, however, about a third of the officers are not aware of the PSAB's policy review mission. Finally, most of the officers (86.1%) correctly understand that the PSAB does not actually make policy for the police department.

Table 6-1

The substantial level of misunderstanding about the role of the PSAB among rank and file officers is cause for concern. One of the hallmarks of police professionalism is that officers know what is expected of them, along with the processes for reviewing possible misconduct. Both the PSAB and the APD have failed to adequately inform rank and file officers about the PSAB's role.

Virtually the only person we interviewed who spoke favorably about the PSAB was the Mayor, although he did concede that things were far from perfect. When asked to list the accomplishments of the PSAB, however, the Mayor cited only two specific items. We discuss these two items below, and explain why in our judgment they are evidence of the failure of the PSAB.

Policy Review Activities of the PSAB

TThe PSAB is charged with the responsibility to "conduct studies" and make recommendations regarding the policies and procedures of the police, fire, and detention departments. With respect to the APD, the PSAB has failed to utilize this authority to any significant extent . Since it was established in 1989 (replacing the previous Police Advisory Board), the PSAB has produced one substantive report on police practices, a 1991 report on deadly force, and made recommendations on only a few other issues.(31) It made a recommendation for an on-lookers" policy that was adopted in 1996.(32) The PSAB also conducted a study of APD pursuit policy in 1995.(33)

Several things are notable about these activities. First, the 1991 study of deadly force was undertaken at the request of Mayor Saavedra. The report opens with the statement that "On May 12, 1991, Mayor Louis Saavedra requested the Albuquerque Public Safety Advisory Board to conduct a special review of the use of deadly force by the Albuquerque Police Department."(34) In other words, the PSAB did not initiate the study itself, despite the fact that there was considerable community controversy over a rash of shootings in recent months. This is but one example of the extent to which the PSAB has failed to use its authorized power "to conduct studies."

Second, the report on deadly force has had little apparent impact. As one community leader pointed out to us, with much emotion, seventeen people have been shot and killed by the APD since the report was issued. The lack of impact is confirmed by the fact that an air of crisis currently surrounds the APD use of deadly force. Our report is only one of four studies of various aspects of police use of force that were initiated or completed in the last year. The PSAB itself undertook a new study of the use of force in 1996 (the so-called "Blue Ribbon Committee").(35) The City Attorney's office, meanwhile, commissioned separate studies of the SWAT team and the use of force by officers other than those on the SWAT team.(36)

Third, with respect to the on-looker policy, the PSAB cannot legitimately claim credit for it, since the idea originated with the Independent Counsel.

In other words, the two main products of the PSAB over the past six years were both initiated by others. This is dramatic evidence of the failure of the PSAB to utilize its statutory authority in a proactive way.

This dismal record contrasts sharply with the activities of citizen oversight bodies in other cities. The San Diego Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board made a total of eleven policy recommendations in 1993 alone.(37) The most recent semi-annual report of the Los Angeles County Special Counsel [Auditor] is 88 pages long and contains substantive discussion of eight separate issues related to on-the-street practices of Sheriffs' Deputies along with three other sections related to use of force data, and three sections related to gender, sexual orientation, and training issues. Most important, the report contains an update of progress regarding the implementation of prior recommendations.(38) This issue is discussed in detail in Chapter Nine of this report.

State Representative Pauline Gubbels spoke to the PSAB at its August 7, 1996 meeting. She introduced herself as someone who is "concerned with public safety," and stated that she believes "there is something seriously wrong," particularly with respect to the fatal shooting of citizens by APD. She urged the PSAB to "take up a challenge and get really serious about trying to effect some change."(39) Her comments reflect the same frustration with the failure of the PSAB to adequately fulfill its mandate that is felt by many other people in the community.

The Responsibility of Other Agencies of Government

The failure of the PSAB to conduct studies and make recommendations is not completely the fault of the PSAB itself. As already noted, the PSAB is authorized to address issues "as may be specified from time to time by the Mayor or Council." The 1991 report on police use of deadly force was in fact initiated by Mayor Saavedra. The records, however, do not indicate a consistent effort by mayors or city council members over the years to utilize the PSAB to address concerns about police practices.

Along these lines, the failure of the 1991 PSAB report of police use of deadly force to affect policy does not lie with the PSAB itself. The report contains a total of 40 specific recommendations for action. It is not our purpose here to provide a complete review of the response to each and every one of those recommendations. We do take special note, however, of Recommendation 3.2 which calls for establishing specially trained teams to "handle incidents involving individuals who are mentally handicapped or emotionally distraught." Several other recommendations also relate to the handling of mentally ill persons.

Action to implement the substance of Recommendation 3.2 of the 1991 report was initiated in 1996, and is now in progress. The Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) based on the program in the Memphis Police Department are in the process of being developed. It does not appear, however, that the current CIT initiative is a direct outgrowth of the 1991 PSAB report. It appears to be an ad hoc response to the current crisis in police-community relations. In short, nothing was done to implement Recommendation 3.2 for five years. During this period there were a number of fatal shootings involving mentally ill persons.

Responsibility for the failure to implement Recommendation 3.2 must be shared, in varying degrees, with the individuals who served as police chief, mayor, and members of city council over this period .

Of course, the PSAB itself shares some of the responsibility for this failure by failing to monitor implementation of the many recommendations in the 1991 report. The PSAB did give some attention to the issue of handling the mentally disturbed in 1995, and the APD was then in the process of implementing a new policy.(40) As we explain in Chapter Nine, one of the most important activities of citizen review procedures in Los Angeles County, San Jose, and Portland is their role in monitoring the implementation of their own recommendations. This process of follow-up monitoring does not appear to be operating with the PSAB.

Long Range Planning by the PSAB

The current chair of the PSAB expressed to us, with considerable frustration, her efforts to establish a long-range planning process for the PSAB during 1996. Apparently, however, nothing resulted from her efforts, primarily because of the lack of response by other PSAB members.

The attempt to establish a long-term planning process for the PSAB is to be commended. The PSAB's mandate to "conduct studies ... and make recommendations" requires some kind of process that will identify problems, establish priorities among them, and set an agenda for conducting the necessary studies.

With respect to long-term planning, we were struck by the fact that at the January PSAB which we attended, one member asked each of the three department heads to provide a list of his goals for the coming year. We believe that this was a very legitimate request, and a proper request for the PSAB to make with respect to its oversight mission. The PSAB, however, does not appear to apply the same standard to itself. It does not appear to have a list of priorities for the year. As a result, it is a reactive rather than a proactive agency. This reactive response accounts in large part for the meager list of recommendations over the past eight years.

In 1994, at the request of the Mayor Martin Chavez, the PSAB submitted a Mission Statement, which also included a set of Goals and Objectives.(41) This Mission Statement is included in the Appendix to this report.

Upon closer inspection, however, the Mission Statement proves to be a disappointing document. The "Mission" portion of the statement simply restates in different language the statutory authority of the PSAB ("To serve as a CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE over the Public Safety Sector ensuring that the needs of our respective districts are addressed." "To CONDUCT SPECIAL STUDIES as necessary to determine underlying factors impacting upon unfavorable trends of public safety."). The "Goals" section, meanwhile, is expressed in very general terms ("Goal II - Develop and maintain a pro-active communication linkage with the community at large.").

Nowhere in the Mission Statement is there any reference to specific problems related to the APD or the other two departments under the PSAB's jurisdiction.

PSAB Meetings

Our observation of the January, 1997 PSAB meeting, coupled with a review of PSAB minutes, confirmed a change in meeting procedures that deserves comment.

Prior to 1996, the first substantive business at PSAB meetings (following the call to order and approval of the minutes of the previous meeting) was the "public comment" session. Reports from the three department heads (police, fire, detention) then followed.(42) In the summer of 1996, however, the order of business was reversed. Reports from the department heads were moved to the early part of the meeting and the public comment session moved to the end.(43)

A number of citizens complained to us that PSAB meetings had been converted into a public relations process for the three departments it oversees. It is, of course, entirely proper for the three department heads to make formal reports to the PSAB, just as they report to the mayor and city council. Hearing from the department heads is one aspect of the PSAB's oversight function. Nonetheless, it is our impression that the balance has been shifted in an unhealthy manner. As an agency established for the purpose of citizen oversight, the PSAB should give special emphasis to hearing from citizens. Moving the public comment session to the end conveys the impression that it is being relegated to a second class status.

Should the PSAB Investigate Individual Complaints?

The minutes of PSAB meetings in recent years indicate that there has been some controversy over the question of whether the PSAB should investigate individual complaints. Several community representatives have asked the PSAB to undertake this activity.(44) In response, PSAB members have generally expressed doubt as to whether the PSAB is in fact authorized to do this.

Our review of the enabling legislation indicates that the PSAB is not authorized to review individual citizen complaints. Citizen oversight of individual complaints is specifically granted to the Independent Counsel. The role of the PSAB is clearly defined in terms of addressing general policies and procedures. To that end, it is directed to "conduct studies," and so on.

Our conclusion is that citizens have requested the PSAB to examine individual complaints because they feel they have no other avenue for redress. The minutes of the September 4, 1996 PSAB meeting note that "Citizens at this meeting feel that the PSAB is the only place they have left to turn to make a difference in the system ...."(45) A major part of this problem is the low public visibility of the Independent Counsel (IC). This has created a lack of awareness of the IC's activities and lack of confidence in the IC's oversight role.

We believe there is a solution to this problem. The IC provides direct citizen input into the complaint investigation process. The problem, as we noted in Chapter Four, is that the IC has almost no public visibility. The solution to this problem is to establish a formal link between the PSAB and the IC . This would involve the IC reporting directly to the PSAB about his or her activities and permit members of the PSAB to ask questions and make recommendations for action by the IC.

We conclude with some observations on one particular problem related to citizen dissatisfaction with the PSAB. The demand that the PSAB review complaint investigations reflects a hunger for more information about how complaints are handled. To our surprise, we discovered that considerable information is already being provided in the Quarterly reports from the Internal Affairs Unit of APD . In additions to summary data, the reports include narrative descriptions of all complaints along with the disposition of each complaint.(46) This is precisely the kind of information that helps to answer citizen questions about the complaint investigation process, and at the same time highlight problems and possible changes in the process. We understand that these Internal Affairs Quarterly reports are public documents. The problem is that they are made public but not adequately disseminated to either the PSAB or the public.

Conclusion

We conclude that the PSAB has failed to fulfill its mission to provide oversight of the APD. It has not engaged in a systematic program of conducting studies and making recommendations about APD policies and procedures. In many respects the PSAB has become dysfunctional, contributing to community tensions rather than resolving them.

We believe that the PSAB needs to be restructured. In certain important respects the problems of the PSAB are related to the problems of the IC discussed in Chapter Five. We believe that the PSAB and the IC need to be formally linked. The IC should report to the PSAB and the PSAB should provide specific input into the activities of the IC. This change will both overcome the low visibility of the IC and provide a more focused role for the PSAB with respect to the complaint process.


31. Public Safety Advisory Board, Report to Mayor Louis E. Saavedra on Police Use of Deadly Force (September 4, 1991).

32. PSAB Minutes, February 7, 1996.

33. PSAB, Minutes, April 5, 1995, July 5, 1995.

34. PSAB, Report to Mayor Saavedra (September 4, 1991).

35. PSAB, Minutes, September 4, 1996.

36. R. M. McCarthy & Associates, Independent Report to the City of Albuquerque Legal Department on the Albuquerque Police Department's Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (January 1997).

37. San Diego County Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, 1993 Annual Report (San Diego: February 23, 1994).

38. Special Counsel, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - 6th Semiannual Report (Los Angeles: September 1996).

39. PSAB, Minutes, August 7, 1996.

40. PSAB, Minutes, February 8, 1995.

41. Public Safety Advisory Board, Mission Statement to the Mayor (July 25, 1994).

42. See, for example, PSAB, Minutes, December 6, 1995.

43. PSAB, Minutes, August 7, 1996.

44. See, for example, comments by Andres Valdez, PSAB Minutes, May 3, 1995, June 7, 1995; comments by Shay Cozart, PSAB Minutes, March 6, 1996,

45. PSAB, Minutes, September 4, 1996.

46. APD, Internal Affairs, Quarterly Reports, 1995, 1996.

Document Actions