Wednesday, May 19, 2004

APD Oversight Bill Passes

By Lloyd Jojola, Journal Staff Writer

A bill aimed at beefing up Albuquerque police oversight has been approved by the City Council.
"There were a lot of issues about the (Police Oversight Commission) and the (Independent Review Officer) not having enough teeth," said City Councilor Brad Winter, who sponsored the amendment of the city's police oversight ordinance. "What these amendments did is give the POC some teeth."
The oversight commission and independent review office were formed under a bill passed in 1998 to enhance civilian oversight of the city's police department. Winter said the oversight commission and the police chief agree on citizen complaint and police excessive force cases the vast majority of the time. How the disagreements are dealt with raised issues.
The nine-member council unanimously passed the bill Monday. It will be forwarded to Mayor Martin Chávez.
The Police Oversight Commission will increase in size from seven to nine members, or one from each council district, under the measure. Training requirements are also added for commissioners.
Some of the changes are more significant than others, said Jay A. Rowland, the city's independent review officer.
"Our big, significant one is the POC is now going to make all the findings, not me," Rowland said. "This gives them the opportunity to really get their fingers in it if they want to. Before, they really didn't have that choice. But I felt it was more important to transfer whatever authority I had to them so that they are the guys that have to make the decisions."
In addition, the POC findings will go into the officer's record even if they disagree with the chief, he said. The POC, chief or officer also can appeal to the city's chief administrative officer if there is a disagreement on findings.
Rowland said the measure also clarifies the police chief cannot change findings.
A system will be put in place "where if anybody feels it's appropriate to change findings that there is now a standard for review and a procedure that it's got to go back to the POC and the POC decides," Rowland said.
While the bill was tweaked somewhat after representatives of the POC, IRO, the police department, police union and the administration met, people seemed satisfied with it.
"What I'm happy about is we met with all the players ... and we worked things out," said POC Chairman Joe T. Gutierrez. "We gave in a little and they gave in a little, and I feel very comfortable with the outcome."
Said Winter, "I really think that this is democracy at work, and this is a great bill. And, you know, maybe down the road in a couple of years we might try to make it a little stronger."

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