Chief Gordon Eden has issued a special order instructing APD police officers to issue misdemeanor citations for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes such as drinking in public, marijuana possession, prostitution, shoplifting, theft under $500 which is a misdemeanor, littering, panhandling, trespass and “when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest”.
(See May 22, 2017 Albuquerque Journal article, page A-1 “APD chief: Citations are OK for some crimes; Misdemeanors affected include marijuana possession.)
Criminal misdemeanor charges can carry time in jail and/or fines.
The operating words in the directive are “nonviolent misdemeanor”.
Violent felony crime offenses still require and arrest by police.
The new special order does not make any changes to overall police policy.
In 2001, when I was the Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, I recall then APD Chief Jerry Galvin issuing an identical order advising APD officers to issue misdemeanor citations for misdemeanor crimes where appropriate and officers could still decide when to make an arrest of someone.
The special order makes sense seeing as that most misdemeanors are nonviolent, do not involve immediate physical harm and physical threat to the public, do not warrant a defendant to be taken into custody and held in jail until arraignment contributing to jail overcrowding.
A misdemeanor conviction still results in a criminal record as do citations.
The new directive does not interfere with a police officer’s ability to make an arrest for a misdemeanor crime where the circumstances warrant it, such as when a defendant exhibits a bad attitude and becomes belligerent with a police officer and tries to resist or attempts to flee or assaults the officer.
The special order is a result of a settlement of a twenty (20) year old federal lawsuit filed over jail overcrowding, jail conditions and the treatment of the mentally ill.
The federal lawsuit was filed twenty (20) years ago before the construction of the Metropolitan Detention Center on the west side and when the old detention center downtown was in use.
The downtown detention center could only house 850 and was always overcrowded 300 to 400 over maximum capacity which lead to the federal lawsuit and the eventual construction of the new jail.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is said to be in favor of the new APD order because it will allow the DA to concentrate on violent crimes and repeat offenders.
What is noteworthy is that the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has a Metropolitan Court Division that employs upwards of 25 Assistant District Attorneys that prosecute DWI cases and other cases requiring a court record such as jury trials.
When a person is arrested, they are taken into custody and must be transported to the West Side jail and held until they are arraigned before a judge on the charges or until they are able to bail out of jail which may take a few days and which contributes to overcrowding of the jail and requires expenditure of resources for feeding and housing.
The overwhelming majority of misdemeanor cases are prosecuted by police officers and not the District Attorney’s Office and are referred to as “officer prosecutions” and police officers must appear at misdemeanor arraignments and trials.
The Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association (APOA) now cries like “chicken little” saying the sky is falling and says the order “is the last thing Albuquerque and the community needs right now” and predicts that more misdemeanor citations will strain and already over worked police department since officers should appear in court themselves to prosecute the cases.
More misdemeanor citations should not strain and already over worked police department and should reduce field officers field work load by not having to take people into custody.
The problem declared by the union can be solved by the City and the District Attorney’s office cooperating with each other with the expansion of the Metropolitan Traffic Arraignment Program to a Misdemeanor Arraignment Program.
What the new APD misdemeanor citation policy also means is that when an “undocumented” person or a person who is in this country illegally is stopped by police and given a misdemeanor citation, they will not be arrested and taken to the jail by APD and they will not be screened by Immigration and Naturalization (ICE) nor taken into custody by ICE and deported.
EXPAND TRAFFIC COURT ARRAIGNMENT PROGRAM TO INCLUDE ALL MISDEMEANOR CITATIONS
In 2006, as a Deputy City Attorney, I was tasked with implementing the Traffic Court Arraignment Program where Assistant City Attorneys and paralegals were hired and assigned to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to negotiate plea agreements in traffic cases at the time of arraignments.
There are upwards of 170 different traffic violation citations that can be issued by sworn law enforcement.
In 2009, there were 86,175 traffic arraignment cases in Metro Court handled by the City’s traffic arraignment program.
The most common traffic citations include speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, failing to stop, improper lane change, no registration, no insurance, suspended drivers license, failing to yield, and open container.
A Metropolitan Judge is assigned on a rotating basis to approve the plea agreements negotiated, and on any given day as many as 500 cases can be negotiated, resolved and approved by the Court.
When a person is stopped and issued traffic citations, the citing sworn officer determines if the driver will contest the citations and if the driver wants to contest the citations an arraignment date and time is immediately scheduled.
The Metropolitan Traffic arraignment program streamlined the process, saves time and money and negates the appearance of police officers at the arraignments and prosecuting traffic cases.
The City’s Traffic Court Arraignment Program could be expanded to include virtually all misdemeanor citations but it will require the Bernalillo County District Attorney to assign his prosecutors to assist or take over the program to be effective in handling the volume of cases.
Under the new special order instructing APD police officers to issue misdemeanor citations for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, the citing sworn officer could proceed to schedule the arraignment date and time at the expanded misdemeanor arraignment program where prosecutors could then handle the arraignments instead of police officers or negotiate a plea deal.
The expansion of the traffic arraignment program to include all misdemeanors would also reduce police overtime seeing as that APD officers under their contract are entitled to be paid two (2) hours minimum in overtime to attend court hearings that may last only fifteen minutes which is usually the case for criminal arraignments
If a Defendant fails to appear for the arraignment, a bench warrant for an arrest would be issued.
The last thing the City and the County need right now is an overcrowded jail with nonviolent criminals when the jail should be filed with violent repeat offenders.