Monday, July 30, 2012
Editorial Albuquerque Journal
In every 12-step recovery program, it’s called “honesty.” It refers to the crucial stage when one acknowledges that a problem exists. And the Bernalillo County Detention center is finally there. At least, its jail director is.
This week Chief Ramon Rustin decried a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude nurtured over years by some jail officers that made employees reluctant to report misbehavior or other incidents. “We’ve got to change that culture,” he says. “There won’t be a code of silence.”
How refreshing. And necessary. Also this week, the public learned it will fork over $2.5 million in a settlement with a former MDC inmate who was kicked into a coma in 2009 and has permanent injuries.
The Albuquerque Police Department would do well to forgo the just “boy talk” excuse it has trotted out disturbing event after disturbing event and instead recognize what the new police academy chief calls a cowboy mentality that some of its so-called elite units foster.
Many of the jail’s recent problems — the beatings, bribery scandal, rape accusations and other conduct that results in multimillion-dollar payouts — occurred before the end of 2010 and before the current county administration was in place.
But the new leadership has been busy addressing the causes, improving policy on employee discipline and psychological screening of applicants and adding kiosks for reporting misconduct, digital cameras to eliminate blind spots and body scanners and sniffers to reduce contraband.
Rustin estimates the jail had 22 incidents of staff sexual misconduct, assaults, unnecessary use of force and other problems in 2009 and 2010. That has plummeted to four in his 18-month tenure. But instead of saying everything is under control, he says “it’s going to take years to change the culture and weed out bad officers.” And “those officers that don’t belong — we get rid of right away.”
Acknowledging there is a problem and then acting upon it takes real leadership. APD should take note.
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