Task Force on Police Nears Final Report

Santa Fe’s Community Health and Safety Task Force presented potential recommendations on oversight board, complaint process and policy reviews

City leaders could increase community trust in police through changes to the public complaint process, according to one of a dozen recommendations under consideration by the Community Health and Safety Task Force.

Santa Feans got a first look at draft recommendations on policies and practices Tuesday from the group whose work is nearing completion—three years after City Council voted to establish the task force.

Mayor Alan Webber and Councilors Renee Villarreal and Chris Rivera sponsored a resolution creating a task force in August 2020 following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police. The measure sought a report six months later, but the work moved more slowly than anticipated. The next spring, in March 2021, the council voted to close task force meetings to the public.

At the time, members of the task force said they felt uncomfortable sharing personal details that inform their perspectives on law enforcement in a public setting. Yet, the group settled later on making the meetings available to the public, and they can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel. Villarreal and Rivera serve as co-chairs.

“We used this opportunity as learning and listening sessions. Having that kind of approach to a task force is important so we can inform ourselves prior to making recommendations,” Villarreal said at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, citing the pandemic and busy schedules as reasons for the delay. “Busy people can get stuff done, but we also wanted to be very thoughtful about our work.”

The task force draft recommendations include a call for a police oversight board. Other cities, such as Albuquerque, have established such boards to mixed reaction and results, though experts continue to advocate for them. Santa Fe’s Public Safety Committee has an advisory role today, and task force members also proposed restructuring it to allow members of the Community Health and Safety Task Force to have an ongoing role. While members said there’s no concrete plan for how these two ideas would work in practice, Rivera said the city needs to create greater accountability.

“Whatever this forms into needs more teeth. They need to have some authority or some powers, so that’s a major change I think that needs to be done,” Rivera said.

The resolution assigned the group with six distinct tasks, ranging from examining Santa Fe Police Department policies, operations, procedures and practices to providing opportunities for “a broad cross-section of the community to give advice and offer experiences.”

Seven people remain on what was originally a task force of 12. Current members include District 1 City Council candidate and former city attorney Geno Zamora; Emily Kaltenbach, of the Drug Policy Alliance; Bruce Finger, a member of the Public Safety Committee; New Mexico State Director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center Monica Ault; Somos Un Pueblo Unido Executive Director Marcela Diaz; Annie Rasquin, executive director of CASA court volunteers in the First Judicial District; and Mary Louise Romero-Betancourt, lead restorative justice coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools.

The city has previously refused to release police officers’ disciplinary records and misconduct investigations, and the task force draft recommendations include revamping the Santa Fe Police Department’s web page to make it clear how to file a complaint.

“We want it to be accessible so people don’t have to go through unnecessary steps,” Villarreal said during the meeting. “I think it’s really preventing people who are not computer savvy.”

The draft recommendations also call for the Santa Fe Police and Fire departments to start tracking complaints and provide an annual report capturing the types of complaints they receive and how they are addressed. The members suggested the city work with the Vera Institute for Justice to increase public access to information.

On a separate track, members of the task force looked into gender and race balance, as well as pay equity. Suggestions included establishing an equity task force and ensuring Santa Fe police and fire create a data-driven plan to address inequities in relation to race and gender.

“Family leave, lactation policies— all of those things really impact the gender imbalances that we see in the departments,” member Rasquin said.

The task force also included an item directed towards preventing police militarization. Member Finger said a more specific definition is needed for what classifies as “military-style.”

“What if the police have the opportunity to purchase military drones at a much cheaper price like $5,000. If they can purchase them cheaper, is that military-style? Or is it just a drone?” he asked. “So I don’t know how we’re going to define that.”

The group divided its work into two subcommittees: Policies and Practices; and Community Engagement and Alternative Approaches. The task force will reconvene Oct. 10 to review the second subcommittee’s recommendations and create a final report for the governing body Nov. 29.

A written document containing recommendations presented at the meeting was not published on the city’s website by press time, but staff liaison Julie Sanchez told SFR the information would be public following the meeting. SFR summarized the proposed items below.

  1. Support emergency responders workplace mental health and wellness.
  2. Revamp the Santa Fe Police Department community member complaint process by creating user friendly and accessible formal complaint forms for general officer complaints and bias based profiling complaints
  3. Ensure that the Santa Fe Police and Fire Departments start tracking complaints to ensure accountability and provide an annual report capturing the types of complaints they received, how these were addressed and how improvements were made.
  4. Increase Santa Fe Police Department transparency and public access to information by working with the Vera Institute for Justice.
  5. Provide data-driven and data-informed research on race and gender balance and pay equity to establish a plan on gender and race balance and pay equity.
  6. Establish an equity task force to address diversity and equity in the Santa Fe Fire Department.
  7. The Santa Fe Police Department should join the 30x30 initiative and sign up for 30x30 cohort to receive technical assistance and other network support.
  8. The Santa Fe Police and Fire Departments should start tracking disciplinary actions, and provide an annual summary at the end of the year.
  9. Create a civilian oversight board based on the examples of models provided by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Consider restructuring the existing Public Safety Committee and supplement its membership with CHS Task Force members who would like to continue being involved.
  10. Conduct and review revisions of the following policies, in collaboration with the Police and Fire Union leadership: Workplace Harassment and Discrimination (2004), Use of Force (2020), and Disciplinary Procedures (2012).
  11. Create an internal complaint procedure for past and present employees of SFPD and Fire to safely and confidentially report harassment and have feedback on investigation and how it’s being addressed.
  12. Ensure the non-militarization of the Santa Fe Police Department through oversight by the city manager and/or governing body of military style equipment and vehicles purchased or received through grants.
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