Just a few days after the murder of a Sandia High teenager at a homecoming party, Albuquerque City Councilors Trudy Jones, Ken Sanchez and Brad Winter announced a proposal to renew and finance APD’s “party patrol” program that existed in the early 2000’s but was discontinued in 2007. The 3 city councilors proposed allocating $150,000 to provide funding and to renew the party patrol program. There have been at least 20 shootings related to parties in Albuquerque this year.
On October 21, on a 7-2 vote, the Albuquerque City Council voted to give the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) $280,000 in general fund funding for what they labeled as the “Party Intervention Team” (PIT) insisting the Party Patrol (PP) was not being brought back. Voting YES for the measure were Democrat City Counselors Pat Davis, Ken Sanchez, Diane Gibson and Republicans Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Don Harris. Voting NO were Democrat City Councilors Isaac Benton and Klarissa Peña saying that APD did not fully outline the program’s details The “new program” is meant to combat underage drinking, drug use and high school party violence.
The city councilors who supported the measured assured citizens that the program would not traumatize and criminalize youth. City Councilors who voted for the measured stressed that PIT was not the same as the “party patrol” APD operated in the early 2000’s.
According to the language of the PIT funding bill, the city “is committed to identifying youthful offenders who need assistance and rehabilitative efforts that will reduce the likelihood of recidivism, rather than triggering a cycle of involvement in the criminal justice system or creating a school-to-prison pipeline.”
The goal of the “PIT” initiative is to end underage party goers and underage drinking and refer them to a rehabilitative program. An APD spokesman indicated that the threat of a citation may be the leverage the city uses to get young people into a diversion program. An amendment to the bill that the counsel past directs APD to consult with APS, youth advocates and community partners to develop PIT program.
Councilor Diane Gibson called the PIT program “a kinder, gentler version of what we think of when we think of ‘party patrol’ .
Mayor Keller’s Chief Administrative Office Sarita Nair said:
“We remember the days the APD officers would line up the kids and hand out the minor-in-possession citations. That is not something we want to do. … We remember when those citations were then referred to Albuquerque Public Schools and those kids had trouble participating in sports. That is not something we want to do.”
Mayor Keller for his part said after the Council vote his administration does not want to repeat past mistakes and said:
“Our Party Intervention Team will break up unlawful parties to keep kids safe from violence and hold parents and homeowners accountable for contributing to dangerous incidents … We worked with the City Council and the community to fix issues from past approaches.”
Speakers attending the City Council meeting requested the council to defer the vote until they were given feedback directly from young people. Omar Torres, age 26, who attended the meeting said:
“If we want to have something that’s going to affect young people, we should have young people having some input into what’s going on – that’s just like a basic one-plus-one for me.”
HISTORY OF APD PARTY PATROL
City Councilor Brad Winter is credited for starting the Party Patrol in 2001. At the time, Winter was an assistant principal at La Cueva High School. As a City Councilor, he went to APD when he heard there was a lot of underage drinking happening around the city.
The original APD “Party Patrol” used federal and city council appropriations to pay 12 police officers overtime every Friday and Saturday night to check out calls about loud parties. The dozen officers were broken up into two teams, one for the East Side and one for the West Side. When a person called 911 and complained about a loud party, APD would dispatch the Party Patrol and APD would go straight to the party to see if there was underage drinking. APD would issue the kids “minor in possession of alcohol” citations and arrested the homeowner for giving alcohol to minors.
APD went so far as to advertise the Party Patrol and bought billboards, took out radio commercials and used a “hearse” to advertise that the Party Patrol was going to be out. In its advertising APD used the phrase “Party Meet Poopers” and showed a police officer or an APD badge with the words Party Patrol on it.
The party patrol became very controversial. Critics of the party patrol program objected to the early practice of citing all underage kids at a party, regardless of whether they were drinking or in possession of alcohol. APD eventually stopped the practice. In 2007, a civil rights lawsuit was filed and a federal judge ruled that party patrol officers who entered a home without a search warrant had violated the owner’s constitutional rights.
At the height the program, the Party Patrol was giving out about 2,000 citations a year. The Party Patrol busted up hundreds of parties, wrote thousands of citations and the affect was teenagers were scared to go out drinking. Eventually, the APD party patrol was stopped in part because of the federal lawsuit and in part a victim of its own success. Program funding stopped and there were not enough officers to assign to it.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
If only Albuquerque was the same as it was from 2001 to 2007 when the Party Patrol first existed and violent crime was down and one of APD’s biggest worries was underage drinking at high school homecoming and graduation parties. Albuquerque’s biggest worry in 2019 and going into 2020 is drugs, gangs and gun violence. A ‘kinder and gentler version” of the Party Patrol and calling it the Party Intervention Team (PIT) is not going to cut it. You also have to wonder what is Mayor Keller’s definition of “unlawful parties” in a private residence?
The City Council and Mayor Keller are kidding themselves if they believe that the problem is alcohol use by high school teenagers. Its drugs. Bringing back a very watered-down version of the “Party Patrol” from nearly 20 years ago and calling it the Party Intervention Team (PIT) sounds good but is not going to accomplish much in the long run with a $280,000 allocation to APD. This is one APD tactical plan that should not require a special allocation from the City Council, but one that should be easily absorbed by APD’s $710 million dollar a year budget with a Mayor’s Executive Order.
In recent months before civic groups such as the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), the Economic Forum and the Albuquerque Bar Association, Mayor Tim Keller has produced charts, graphs and statistics showing that violent crime is indeed in all parts of the City and not confined to any particular area of the City. One chart used is a series of red dots showing crime sites and reflects the city literally bathed in red dots throughout.
Crime may be down according to FBI some statistics, but the crime rates have gotten so out of control that even after progress of reducing our crime statistics they are still extremely high. Albuquerque still has some of the highest crime rates for murder and violent crimes in the country. Yet the city council believes a “PIT” program is going to protect our kids from getting killed at parties.
The Keller Administration and Chief Michael Geier have said they would not revive the party patrol, which had mixed results and resulted in civil rights violations. Chief’s Geier’s reluctance is noteworthy because 19 years ago he was the APD Captain in charge of the party patrol, and although he defended its work at the time, he does understand how it operated and more importantly its weaknesses.
The Albuquerque Public School System (APS) has its own police force employing many retirees and former law enforcement officials assigned to the individual schools. You would think APS security would know the students and have insightful information about high school parties. If there is a high school party problem involving alcohol use, APS could initiate its own Party Patrol Program during homecomings and graduation season.
APD staffs police officers to the schools. The Albuquerque Public School System and APS Security along with APD assigned to the schools could implement a “Party Intervention Team” to deal with high school homecoming parties, graduation parties and other high school related parties involving the individual schools.
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