It should come as no surprise to no one that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque over the new “pedestrian safety ordinance” that severely restricts panhandling.
(January 12, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “ACLU suit aims to block panhandling restrictions)
The ordinance was enacted by the City Council in November of 2016 despite repeated warnings that the ordinance was probably a violation of constitutional rights.
“This [ordinance] is just another heavy-handed attempt by the city to criminalize homelessness and push poor people out of sight and out of mind. … People have a constitutional right to stand in public places and solicit donations, regardless of whether they’re looking for their next meal or raising money for little league uniforms” said ACLU of New Mexico staff attorney María Martínez Sánchez in a news release.
The plaintiffs in the case are seeking a declaratory ruling from the federal court that the ordinance is unconstitutional, that the ordinance violates the plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article II, Section 17 of the Constitution of the State of New Mexico.
The plaintiffs have filed a motion for a “preliminary injunction” seeking an order from the court that would prevent enforcement by the City of the ordinance until the court decides on the constitutionality of the ordinance.
We should all be thankful we have a City Council enacting ordinances that violate the US Constitution to stop the panhandling crime wave being caused by panhandlers and homeless and all the criminals legally driving the streets of Albuquerque wanting to show an act of kindness or charity to someone less fortunate.
Sarcasm set aside, the Albuquerque Police Department is having enough problems as it is handling far more important calls for service that do indeed endanger public safety.
APD has only 436 sworn police are assigned to field services, divided into three working shifts, less any of those on vacation, sick leave or in court resulting in approximately 24 sworn officers patrolling an entire area command.
In 2016, APD made 8,744 felony arrests, 19,857 misdemeanor arrests, 1,070 DWI arrests, and 2,462 domestic violence arrests. Albuquerque is number one in the nation for auto thefts, our violent crime rates and property crime rates have increased by 21.5% and 19% respectively and murders increased by 54% in 2015.
Despite our real crime wave, the Albuquerque City Council is worried about panhandling.
There is now a serious risk of financial liability and violation of constitutional rights of trying to enforce an ordinance that may violate the US Constitution and First Amendment rights.
Mayor Tim Keller’s promise to Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones, the sponsor of the ordinance, to have the Albuquerque Police Department enforce the ordinance needs to be put on hold until the Federal Court makes a decision on if the ordinance is constitutional.
Mayor Keller and the City Council need to find a much better way of dealing with panhandling and the homeless instead of enacting ordinances that make acts of charity criminal and forcing a huge strain on law enforcement resources that are needed to address our crime rates.