APD faces backlog of use of force investigations

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department’s excessive use of force was the reason the Department of Justice was called to the Duke City in 2014. But over the last couple of years, hundreds of incidents – coupled with staffing shortages – created a backlog in use of force cases.

Zak Cottrell, APD interim deputy superintendent of police reform, said they fell behind in use of force investigations from 2020 to 2021 – creating a backlog of 660 use of force investigations.

"We don’t have the manpower in the department right now to address it," Cottrell said. "That’s why I said, it’s actually in the best interest of the city, Department of Justice, and really the community really to get these looked at quickly. To address it appropriately, we need to hire an outside entity."

Right now, use of force investigations in the department are under the watch of contracted investigators, called the External Force Investigations Team, as a result of the DOJ settlement. They make sure investigations are being done properly and to the expected standards.

"We’re still going to have the mentor or oversight portion of them assisting our investigators with getting up to speed to where they need to be," Cottrell said. "They would hire an additional team to tackle the backlog."

They would investigate the backlog to look for trends or identify issues that need to be addressed or incorporated in training. Use of force investigations are on a strict timeline – there’s a 120 day maximum for any discipline to be implemented as a result.

"There’s 660 cases there that may have some potential policy violations where an o officer would have gotten disciplined, now we’re time-barred and can’t impose that discipline" Cottrell said. "So that is a little bit of a black eye on the department. I’ll agree with that."

Cottrell said they use a tiered system, with most cases classified as Level 2:

  • Level 1: Force that does not cause injury
  • Level 2: Something that likely caused injury
  • Level 3: Use of force cases that result in serious injury

"There are going to be some level threes in the backlog, yes, I don’t know to what level. As we go through them, we’ll know more. But there are going to be some level threes," Cottrell said.

However, expanding the External Force Investigation Team would come with a cost and it would also need to be court approved. Officials are hoping to get this moving forward as soon as they can.