Civilian Police Oversight Agency Board Chairman Eric Olivas Quits post!
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Charles Arasim - freelance photojournalist Updated: December 9, 2021 3:00 PM Posted: December 9, 2021 08:34 AM
Mr. Charles Arasim has obtained a scathing and mostly revealing resignation letter from out going Board Chair Eric Olivas.
Mr. Olivas still had Two years left on his term. This leaves only 7 of 9 board members left. Three of the Seven terms end this coming February 2022.
Below is the letter in its entirety. 12/8/21
I wish to inform you of my intent to resign my position on the Civilian Police Oversight
Agency Board effective at 4:59 PM on 12/9/21. It has been a great privilege to serve this
community through this Board. It has been a humbling experience to see and understand the
issues the men and women of APD deal with each and every day. I am resigning my seat for the reasons listed below.
First and foremost let me state that I am not resigning for personal reasons, but rather
because I believe this process is badly broken and many persons, policies, and politics have led to that breakdown. This is not a Civilian Police Oversight Board as it is titled, rather this Board is a Civilian Police Advisory Board. The Board has no oversight authority over APD, it can issue recommendations for discipline and policy, but all recommendations are non-binding and can be dismissed (as they often are) by the Chief of Police. No matter the evidence presented, the Board is able to have little effect on the actual operations of APD.
The Board itself is tasked with far too many responsibilities. The City Council erred in
assigning so many tasks and responsibilities to the Board and its members and then restricted
its ability to function by limiting the number of committees that Board members may serve on.
Further, the list of training required for Board members is far too ambitious for unpaid
volunteers. This requirement skews the membership of the Board towards retirees and those
who are independently wealthy, hardly a subset reflective of our diverse community. For
example, the required Civilian Police Academy course occurs two times per week over the
course of 3 months adding up to nearly 60 hours of training including topics such as the Horse Mounted Unit and Impact Investigations. These are important units of APD, no doubt, but is knowledge of them required for Board service? Hardly. To be a fully functional and well-informed member of this Board an individual needs approximately 20 hours a week minimum to devote to Board service.
The Board has members who cannot and do not devote the time required to serve, and
it clearly shows. Some members come to meetings completely unprepared and have not
reviewed materials or have only done a surface review. Recently I learned that one member
who had been voting on cases for 6 months, only recently learned how to access case materials and findings letters after contacting agency staff. After spending months correcting faulty training records and regaining compliance on training requirements, just one member can set back the efforts of the Board immensely. Despite the obvious deliberate non-compliance of some members, many Board members refuse to hold those members responsible accountable. One member went so far as to say that CPOA staff should be checking in with new members on a weekly basis and another wondered whether access to a computer was a reason for non-compliance with training requirements. To be a member of this Board, some basic skills, self-accountability, and self-reliance must be had. If the Board can’t hold itself accountable, why would anyone entrust the Board with real power to hold APD accountable?
The Board is charged to review allegations of officer misconduct impartially and fairly
based on policy, not based on feelings or a particular ideology. Because of the emphasis of
certain Board Members on how a particular case “feels”, the Board is constantly bogged down debating the minutiae of minor complaints where, even if the allegations or “bad feelings” were true, little to no discipline would result. Yet, when serious policy matters come before the Board, such as when the suite of Use of Force Policies was recently reviewed, many of these same Members that drill into the details of each minor complaint had nothing to say or didn’t even bother to show-up.
The City Council has designed a bad process. From the appointment process, to
training, and of course the long list of responsibilities delegated to the Board, the Civilian Police Oversight Ordinance in Albuquerque is broken. Efforts are underway to nibble at the edges of the problem, but frankly the proposed amendments to the ordinance hit at the low hanging fruit and do nothing to give a meaningful role to Civilian Oversight of Police in Albuquerque. On numerous and repeated attempts to arrange meetings with City Councilors to discuss issues with the CPOAB several never even responded, of those that did respond and meet, 3 will no longer be on the Council at the end of this month. It is clear from meetings with councilors and even more clear from public statements, that many councilors do not understand the ordinance they wrote. In one recent meeting a Councilor went so far as to state that the members of the CPOAB, “hold the lives and livelihoods of officers in their hands.” This statement would be funny if it wasn’t so ignorant of how the process really works. Other Councilors have made similar statements indicating that they do not have a good understanding of how the CPOA Ordinance is written and how it works in practice. If City Councilors want a strong and effective Civilian Oversight process in Albuquerque I would urge them to listen to those that know best including, but not limited to Board Members.
Despite serious issues within the Board, the greatest problems in this process lie within
the parties of the CASA including the Monitor, the USDOJ, the APOA, and the City. While
training records for the Board have been incomplete for nearly 2 years, only in IMR-14 is the
issue formally raised. In IMR-13 the issue was raised during informal meetings. Has the monitor
really been doing its job if it took two years to note that training records were out of date?
Moreover the monitor has provided conflicting guidance. Criticizing the Board for spending too much time reviewing cases while in the next paragraph applauding the Board for catching
serious deficiencies in an Agency investigation during its case review process. When pressed
for clarity, only more ambiguity was provided. What else in this process is the monitor missing or giving conflicting guidance on? Might there be some financial incentive for the out-of-state
monitor to drag this process on and give conflicting advice? Why has the monitor not held the
City out of compliance for not filling Board positions and not publishing a clear and transparent process for how applicants will be screened and vetted? The City has promised action on this for years, none has been taken, yet the monitor is silent.
The USDOJ meddles in Board business as it sees fit. When the Assistant US Attorney
didn’t like an ill-informed statement that a new member made in a committee meeting, USDOJ
rallied the City Attorney and others to its cause insisting that this was a sign of the Board being complacent, rather than looking to City Council as to how such a poorly informed and biased member was appointed to this Board in the first place. The assistant US Attorney has also made statements in support of the now departed Executive Director, while failing to recognize that the Board cannot comment on such matters given Personnel protections.
The City Attorney has also meddled in Board business despite the professed need for
independence of the Board. The City Attorney has all but declared that the current training
provided to the Board is inadequate. Without stating what about the training was/is inadequate, the City Attorney has convinced all the parties that the City Attorney is better suited to provide training to the Board, despite obvious issues with the independence of the Board. However, when the assistance of the City Attorney was requested to address APD not providing required CPA training to the Board by a more accessible virtual means during the pandemic, the response indicated that it would be inappropriate for the City Attorney to intervene on the Board’s behalf given its independent status. The City Attorney has provided inaccurate information to City Council on Board training compliance, despite being provided evidence to the contrary. On numerous occasions the City Attorney has lectured and belittled the Board and myself about its shortcomings and lack of priorities. This criticism came from one of the primary parties responsible for the compliance of the City of Albuquerque with the CASA, despite improvements in CASA compliance being stalled for the last 1.5 years.
Despite the many parties failing in their obligations in this process the greatest fault lies
with the Albuquerque Police Department, mainly its Executive Leadership. Rather than appoint leaders with real experience in reforming a large police department the current mayoral administration chose a union endorsed insider. More concerning is the bloat and constant turnover in APD command staff. When the current mayoral administration began their tenure they proclaimed that they were reforming the APD organizational chart. They accused the prior administration of having a bloated and top heavy command that left the field short-handed. Now we have 2 Chief’s (the Chief and Superintendent). There are more deputy chiefs and chiefs of staff and deputy chiefs of staff than I care to mention. Then there are public safety advisors, public safety liaisons, public information officers, and the list goes on and on. The current organizational structure makes the past administration look efficient by comparison. The solution to every problem has been to create and staff a new high-level, at-will position.
As if the top-heavy structure wasn’t enough, the churn through these cushy positions
makes an Amazon warehouse look calm and tranquil. Nearly every week we learn that some
high level commander has been reassigned, retired, or resigned. The training academy, a
perennial issue of concern in the monitor’s reports, has had 4 commanders in 4 years. Some
commanders last a matter of months, others even less than that. How can an organization
project stability and good function when nothing about it is stable or consistent? How can we
hold field officers accountable when command staff changes on a whim and guidance from said command staff can change on a dime depending on who is in charge and what stimuli they are responding to.
While the Board is charged with evaluating and making recommendations on APD
Policy, APD has consistently stonewalled the Board on basic data requests. The Board has
requested data on the expensive and untested Shotspotter program only to be given a letter
assuring the Board that all procurement processes were followed (with no evidence) and a short briefing emphasizing that the program was too new to offer full statistics and analysis. Many other cities use Shotspotter, why didn’t APD look at those programs before committing to its own version of this program? When you don’t have enough officers to respond to the actual calls in the system, why purchase a complicated and expensive system to generate even more (lower priority) calls? The Board has, on numerous occasions, requested data on the K9 unit. Given the high rate of injuries (to civilians and APD personnel) and frequent settlements, having the Board look at this unit and its policy would seem to be a no-brainer, yet APD has stonewalled for nearly a year. What is APD hiding, or are they just that bad at keeping records? The Board has also requested records on traffic stops including data on fines collected, injuries, shootings, etc. Once again, APD has stonewalled this request and avoided accountability. Lastly, despite years of reporting on overtime abuse at APD, spearheaded by a CPOA Investigation, little action has been taken to implement meaningful reforms to the APD Overtime process.
APD is broken. Not because of the brave and hardworking men and women who serve
the community as field officers, detectives, and front-line supervisors, but because of a
command staff focused on politics and micromanagement. There is no accountability for the
organization as a whole. The City Council seems convinced that throwing money at APD will
solve all the problems. Despite the City Council budgeting the department for hundreds more
officers each year, that goal has never been met. APD blames the national recruiting
environment and no-one asks questions. How is it that BCSO maintains a nearly full staff while
APD is struggling to tread water? City Council buys APD a new helicopter, a new
communication system, gadgets like ShotSpotter, and more, yet City Council never asks hard
questions as to how violent crime rates continue to rise, recruitment struggles, and progress
towards meeting the requirements of the CASA are non-existent. I believe the answer to these good questions City Council refuses to ask is relatively simple: bad leadership. When officers don’t feel supported and valued and they see the churn and burn at the top, why would they not assume that they are expendable to the organization at the first sign of trouble? Yes the organization must discipline and remove bad officers, but it must also show that it is stable and supportive of those doing their jobs correctly and to the best of their ability.
APD must install commanders that are competent and assure them some stability to
implement and oversee changes. The APD Chief should be appointed to 6, 8, or even a 10 year term to give the department the stability it needs and to attract top-tier candidates interested in leading the department for the long-run, not just padding their PERA with a few high paying years. Lower level commanders should also be afforded more job stability so that they can actually see-through reforms they implement. The APD budget must be scrutinized and funding for fancy gadgets and at-will positions must be trimmed back while emphasizing recruitment and retention of field officers and investigators.
The CPOAB/CPOA Ordinance must be reformed to narrow the focus of the Board. The
training requirements of the Board should be pared back, but front loaded. Before someone is
allowed to vote on cases, they should be trained on the policies and processes that govern that review. The current training requirement of 6 months after appointment is akin to allowing an officer to join the force and begin patrolling the streets with a badge and a gun before being trained, we all think that would be crazy, but for CPOA Board Members that is exactly what we allow, if Board members ever complete their training in the first place. Board members should be compensated for their time with generous stipends tied to completing training and attending meetings. If this city wants a professional CPOAB, it should pay for it. Paying Board Members also helps to break down barriers to entry allowing a more diverse slate of membership. Board Members should be required to sponsor and attend community outreach events. Most importantly, the Board must be empowered to make binding decisions on policy and discipline. What is the point of Civilian Oversight if it is purely non-binding and advisory?
The last point I wish to make is that parties in this process need to step back and tone
down the rhetoric. The process is so rife with finger pointing and backstabbing that I’m not sure any of the primary parties involved is actually interested in the stated goal of ensuring that Albuqueruqe has constitutional community policing. If the parties actually listened and tried to understand one-another it might become apparent that most of those involved want the same thing. It is possible that many individuals involved in the process have made mistakes and many parts of this process are flawed. No one group is solely responsible for failures, yet each group takes great pride in blaming others. If the real goal is to achieve constitutional community policing for Albuquerque, shouldn’t the process involve adopting the best ideas and practices regardless of who came up with them? The parties need to move on from failures with constructive solutions instead of getting bogged down in assigning blame and scapegoating. I hope this reform process is successful, it needs to be, for the sake of our officers and our community.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to finding other ways to
serve this city I love,