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IV. A Description of the Citizen Complaint Process and Oversight Mechanisms in Albuquerque

The Citizen Complaint Process

The process for investigating citizen complaints in the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) represents a mix of internal and external features.

The ordinance establishing the Independent Counsel authorizes the IC to "direct" the complaint process. Pursuant to this authority, the two individuals who have served as ICs have issued a series of Directives and Memoranda of Understanding establishing the complaint investigative process. The role of the IC is described in greater length in Chapter Five.

Figure 4-1 provides a schematic description of the complaint investigative process.

There are several aspects of this process that should be noted. First, responsibility for investigating complaints lies with the Internal Affairs Unit of the APD (Step 2). The IC provides citizen input into this process by reviewing IA investigative files. The IC has the authority to require additional investigation where necessary. The IC also has authority to conduct an independent investigation, and to hire outside investigators for that purpose.

Responsibility for imposing discipline on an officer found guilty of misconduct lies with the APD Chain of Command, specifically the Captain who serves as the officer's Area Commander.

The IC has the authority of disagree with the Chain of Command officers. Such disagreement results in a Nonconcurrence Meeting with the Chief of Police (Step 5B). If the disagreement is not resolved, the case is sent to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO of the City for resolution (Step 7).

Aspects of the APD Disciplinary Process

The complaint investigation and disciplinary process in the APD is different from many other police departments. In many other departments, internal affairs investigates complaints and makes a recommendation for discipline directly to the chief of police. In the APD, however, Internal Affairs investigates complaints, subject to the review of the Independent Counsel, and then refers a case to the chain of command for the actual determination of discipline. Thus, the Captain of each Area Command imposes discipline. Internal Affairs does not itself "discipline" officers. Each case then proceeds up the chain of command within APD. Although the Chief of Police is ultimately responsible for all disciplinary actions, in practice the real work of determining the appropriate discipline resides with Area Commander Captains.

We discovered that this disciplinary process creates certain problems. Because responsibility for imposing discipline is decentralized among the Area Commanders there is a problem of consistency. A number of officers we spoke with informally identified this as a problem. The problem of fairness surfaced in our survey of the rank and file. We learned that consistency and fairness has been a problem for some time. One attempt to correct the problem is the Chart of Sanctions which is designed to specify the appropriate discipline, given the seriousness of the case and the officer's past record. (The Chart of Sanctions functions much like the sentencing guidelines that currently exist in the federal criminal courts and a number of states). A copy of the Chart of Sanctions is included in the Appendix.

It is our impression that consistency and fairness continue to be matters of concern among officers. The leaders of both the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) and the Chicano Police Officers Association presented us with proposals for changes in the disciplinary system. It appears that rank and file officer concern is directed not at the external forms of oversight, or even the top command of the department, but primarily at mid-management, including sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.

Oversight Mechanisms

The City of Albuquerque has two forms of citizen review or external oversight (the terms are interchangeable) of the APD: the Independent Counsel and the Public Safety Advisory Board.

The Independent Counsel has the authority to "direct" the overall manner of the complaint investigation process. The activities of the IC pursuant to this authority are examined in detail in Chapter Five.

The Public Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) has the authority to "conduct studies" and make recommendations regarding the policies and procedures of the APD. The activities of the PSAB pursuant to that authority are examined in detail in Chapter Six.

As we mentioned in the Introduction to this report, Albuquerque has had two forms of citizen review for many years. The question before the citizens of Albuquerque is not whether to have citizen review, but how well the current mechanisms are working and whether some changes are needed.