Political Amnesia In An Election Year

Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris suffers from “political amnesia” in an election year when it comes to public safety and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

The Albuquerque City Council Finance Committee has voted a “do not pass” recommendation to the Albuquerque City Council on the proposed charter amendment requiring a public vote to mandate the hiring of 375 sworn officers for the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) with the Charter Amendment sponsored by City Councilors Don Harris and Ken Sanchez.

(See May 15, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, Metro & NM Section, page A-6, Panel votes “do not pass” on APD mandate; Charter amendment sent to full City Council”.)

The proposed charter amendment would require the city to have 25 sworn police officers for every 11,500 residents in effect mandating that APD have 1,215 sworn officers.

APD is currently funded for 1,000 sworn police but only employs 844.

Police staffing levels should be tied to work load and case load demands and not tied to population levels.

There is no need for such the charter amendment and it is ill advised.

There is an element of hypocrisy with City Councilor Don Harris sponsoring the charter amendment calling for a public vote on APD staffing levels.

Harris voted for the ART Bus Project and refused to put the ART Bus project on the ballot for a public vote, despite complaints from his constituents, so why does he feel the public needs to vote on APD staffing levels?

The Albuquerque City Council plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department including controlling APD’s entire budget.

When Mayor Berry took office in 2009, he appointed Darren White Chief Public Safety Officer and the City Council unanimously approved the appointment of White with Councilor Harris voting for the appointment without any objection.

The same year, the Berry Administration abolished the longevity program that kept experienced police officers from retiring, unilaterally decided not to pay a 5% negotiated pay raise, abolished the APD take home car policy for APD, eliminated sign on bonuses and mortgage down payments for new recruits, all policy changes implemented by Darren White with City Councilor Don Harris saying absolutely nothing and not voicing any objections to the changes.

Moral within APD plummeted and the mass exodus of experienced police officers began when the longevity pay program was abolished.

In November 2009 when Don Harris was on the City Council, APD had 1,098 sworn police officers and Don Harris voted for full funding for 1,100 sworn police.

Harris now says in an election year “For three years, we’ve been at 800 plus (sworn officers) and the Department of Justice says 1,000 is a passing grade. … I do not think we’re passing. I think we have to treat this as an urgent situation.”

Is it urgent now because it’s an election year?

In eight (8) years, APD went from 1,100 sworn police to 844 all under the watchful eye of the Albuquerque City Council, including Harris, pretending they supported public safety.

The City Council could act to increase APD staffing levels on its own if it wanted to, because it has in the past and Councilor Harris has voted for it.

The City Council has the ultimate and final authority to fund APD to whatever level it wants with a simple majority vote and historically has done so for many years.

From 2007 to 2009, APD aggressively recruited to get to the 1,100-level using sign on bonuses, mortgage down payments, tuition payoffs and lateral hires to get to the 1,100 level.

Eight (8) years ago, APD was fully staffed with 1,100 officers, and Don Harris voted for the APD staffing and funding for 1,100 sworn officers.

From 2010 to 2014, the city council fully funded 1,100 positions despite the mass exodus of sworn police and the APD Police Academy’s failure to recruit and keep up with retirements.

Three years ago, the City Council voted to reduce funding from 1,100 sworn officers to 1,000 sworn officers because of the Berry Administration’s failure to recruit and keep up with retirements and Harris voted for the reduction in staffing and as of today APD employs 844 sworn officers.

A city council resolution could be enacted calling for the increase in APD personnel and giving raises and calling for retention and incentive bonuses and sign on and education pay to help with recruitment.

Over the last eight (8) years, Harris has said nothing about APD management, not even when the Department of Justice found a ”culture of aggression” that lead to a federal consent decree and mandated reforms.

City Councilor Don Harris has done nothing when it comes to Albuquerque Police Department (APD) reforms and has never challenged the APD command staff in any meaningful way demanding compliance with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree reforms.

Each time the Federal Monitor has presented his critical reports of APD to the City Councilor, Harris has essentially remained silent and declined to demand accountability in any meaningful way from the Mayor and hold the APD command staff responsible for dragging their feet on the reforms, let alone staffing levels.

APD cannot recruit enough officers now to reach the 1,000 level, so what makes Harris think that a charter amendment approved by voters will do any good to add 375 more sworn officers to APD?

If Harris feels so strongly that we need 375 more officers, then he should just introduce and city council resolution calling for it along with the $16 million funding, instead of calling for a charter amendment, but that would require a political backbone in a re-election year.

Harris is part of the problem with City Hall.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.