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City Wins Ruling for Higher Standard in Keller Administration’s Use of Force Overhaul

Ruling over dispute with police union clears way for investigators to ask what a reasonable officer “would have known” when reviewing a use force

June 24, 2020

A recent decision by Judge James Browning of the United States District Court for New Mexico cleared the way for the Keller administration’s efforts to enact a more stringent standard for use of force by the Albuquerque Police Department. The judge’s ruling settles a dispute between the administration and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) over Section 2-57-2 of department Standard Operating Procedures, specifically a standard that Supervisors and Force Investigation Section detectives “shall consider the facts that a reasonable officer on scene would have known at the time the officer used force” when they are reviewing force incidents and making determinations.

Working with the DOJ, the Monitor, and the CASA stakeholders, the Keller administration has been a leader in police reform toward constitutional, community-based policing. The administration has worked to change the City’s approach to public safety, including extensive reform efforts at APD. A key component of the Settlement Agreement with the DOJ—and the work to repair APD’s relationship with the public—was an overhaul of the department’s Use of Force Policies. New policies were called for by the DOJ in 2014. New policies were put in place after Keller took office, and re-training of officers began in 2019.

In addition to overhauling Use of Force Policies, the Keller administration created a dedicated compliance bureau, reformed internal affairs, implemented cultural competency and ethical policing training, and launched violence intervention and diversion programs to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. The administration has also been focused on reducing gun violence, which is a key driver of violent crime.

APD’s policy requires officers in all cases to use the minimum amount of force that was reasonable, necessary, and proportional based on the totality of circumstances.

The APOA asked the court to strike or change the standard so that a reviewer could only consider the facts “known to the officer at the time of the incident.” The Court’s decision allows investigators to consider the facts that a reasonable officer would have known in their review of incidents, ultimately providing an incentive for officers to fully assess a situation before deciding to use force.

In a 209-page ruling last week, Judge Browning found that the APOA’s ability to intervene in the Settlement Agreement is limited to matters pertaining directly to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that the objection was not timely, and that the objection had no merit, writing, “Albuquerque has the right to enact a policy more stringent than the constitutional floor that is consistent with the Settlement Agreement and case law.”

To read Judge Browning’s Ruling, click here.

To review APD’s Use of Force policies, click here.