With just a few days remaining of the 2020 New Mexico State Legislature’s 30 day session, the legislature has still not taken final action on the primary purpose of the session: enactment of the 2020-2021 budget that will take effect July 1, 2020. The session ends February 20, and the Senate has yet to adopt the House approved version of the budget and still needs to weigh other financial legislation in the coming days. According to Senator John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate will need to make about $160 million in cuts to ensure New Mexico maintains its targeted level of financial reserves.
The budget bill passed by the House and under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee calls for about $7.6 billion in ongoing spending, an increase of roughly 7.5% over this year’s spending levels. The House Bill would leave the state with reserves of 26%, one percentage point higher than the 25% target, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts. According to Senator Smith other pieces of legislation moving through the Legislature would also have budgetary impacts, such as potential changes to the tax code and stand-alone spending measures which will result in the 25% target being exceeded. As a result, Smith said that the Senate will need to trim about $160 million in proposed spending to put the state on track for the 25% reserves
With the enactment of a state budget going to the wire with so many cuts being discussed, its more likely that not one of the first cuts that will be made by the Senate Appropriations Committee is to slash the City of Albuquerque’s request for State Funding.
KELLER ASKS FOR $30 MILLION FROM STATE
During a press conference held on November 19, Mayor Keller announced that he had asked New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature for $30 million in funding during the upcoming 2020 legislative session to “modernize” APD. Keller said $20 million dollars of that will go to changing the way police file reports and produce crime stats and how they connect all the crime-fighting data into one.
The $20 million in upgrades in the city’s existing crime-fighting technology being requested by the Mayor Keller from the New Mexico Legislature includes upgrades to the Albuquerque Police Departments (APD) computer and records systems. The systems are used by APD police in their assigned squad cars and the mobile crime scene units. It also includes funding for new technology in gunshot detection devices and license plate scanners.
Major upgrade funding is being sought for APD’s 911 dispatching capabilities to include Global Positioning System (GPS). As it exists today, when a call is made to 911, the answering dispatcher will dispatch a police officer usually based on availability regardless of how far away the officer is.
Each time a 911 call is answered by dispatch, the call can get routed through the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) where upon RTCC analysts work through different records systems to find out as much background about who the call is made about so that the information can be relayed to the dispatched police officer. Such background information is critical to the police officer to know what they may be dealing with, including identifying a violent offender or a person who is mentally ill.
“We’re dealing with systems that are decades old and older. It’s a situation that is holding back everything that we are trying to do as a department. It’s essentially a deferred investment that I wish we would have made a decade ago and that we have to make now.”
The other $10 million would go to the city’s new violence intervention program.
VIP PROGRAM EXPLAINED
On November 22, Mayor Tim Keller announced what he called a “new initiative” to target violent offenders called “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP). The VIP initiative is in response to the city’s recent murders resulting in the city tying the all-time record of homicides at 72 in one year. By December 30, the city had a new all-time record of 82 homicides in one year. Mayor Keller proclaimed the VIP is a “partnership system” that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and social service and community provides to reduce violent crime. According to officials, the city had been working for months on a Violence Intervention Program. The VIP program is modeled after the “Ceasefire” Program in Oakland, California, which targets gang-related violence, but VIP will include domestic violence.
According to Mayor Keller:
“This is a first-of-its kind program for Albuquerque that pairs law enforcement and public health working together to put the drivers of violent crime behind bars while creating paths away from violence for those who are not yet drawn into the cycle of violence or are looking for a way out. Our partners in the program include the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, Bernalillo County District Attorney, New Mexico State Police, Probation and Parole, ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshal, US Attorney, Family & Community Services, Bernalillo County Community Health Council and more.”
Mayor Keller acknowledged the “VIP” program is modelled after other such programs in other cities and that APD has been working on the program since spring. According to Keller, in other cities, it has brought down violent crime rates by as much as 10%.
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair for her part said that APD started their research at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and visited Oakland, which has implemented “Operation Ceasefire”, a data driven crime fighting strategy to coordinate law enforcement, social services and the community to reduce gun and gang violence. According to Nair, the city’s VIP program will be looking at Domestic Violence and said:
“There is a big component of gang violence here but if we focus on that we’re not going to change. We need to make it broader than that.”
VIP FOUR MAJOR AREAS OF CONCENTRATION
There are 4 major components of the VIP program:
APD will be “restructured” to create a first-of-its-kind “Violence Intervention Division” with its own Commander. The division is designed to make cross-functional partnership as productive as possible. The goal is to remove the barriers between investigative units, increase coordination among field officers, violent crime, undercover detectives, the intelligence unit, forensic techs, crime analysts and victim advocates to fight violent crime. Law enforcement partners on the program include the State Police, Probation and Parole, ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshal and Homeland Security. (EDITORS NOTE: There is absolutely nothing new about this component of VIP. It is standard practice for all of these agencies to coordinate their activities and many times participate in joint initiatives depending on funding for tactical plans.)
Prosecutors from all systems including the Attorney General, District Attorney, US Attorney and Office of Superintendent of Insurance will collaborate to share information and make sure cases are going to the appropriate teams and courts. Prosecutors and law enforcement partners will also work with analysts from APD’s Real Time Crime Center and the NIBIN and Gun Violence Reduction Units to review shooting incidents on a bi-weekly basis. (EDITORS NOTE: There is absolutely nothing new about this component of VIP. The most recent example is the very successful coordinated auto theft initiative with APD, BCSO, the State Police, the Superintendent of Insurance and the DA’s Office to combat auto thefts.)
The City has always funded social services aimed at violence reduction. However, for the first time Family and Community Services is specifically working with the community to identify the most effective evidence-based violence reduction strategies, and requiring providers to work together in the Violence Intervention Program. The administration created a Deputy Director of Health position held by a clinical social worker.
The City will reach out to community partners, including the Bernalillo County Community Health Council, that are dealing with the causes and effects of violent crime to work together on this program. A technical advisor will lead partnership-based violence reduction efforts to improve police-community trust and sustain the strategy over time.”
LEGISLATURE FUNDING IN DOUBT
On February 5, it was reported that the request for the $10 million in VIP funding by the city was made too late. The Keller Administration is now worried the funding won’t be included in the final $7.6 billion budget that passed the House. The funding can still be included in the final version of the bill that passes the Senate, but there is no guarantee of that happening.
State Representative Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, a sponsor of the bill had this to say:
“The problem is on the money request; it may or may not be too late,” “I’m hoping we can get there, but I’m not optimistic. It wasn’t a delay in the legislative process. … It’s one of those things. I just think we’re all going to have to get better at working partnerships between local and state entities, and even among the legislators themselves.”
State Representative Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, another sponsor of that bill, echoed Ely’s concerns when she said:
“I don’t fault the city for this, because they’re constantly looking for solutions. … We probably needed to have started talking about this as a funding priority in the summertime, at the latest.”
Mayor Tim Keller, a former state senator, said he is not concerned and had this to say:
“There’s a long road ahead. … We’re running it as a stand-alone bill because we want to educate people on how important it is and what it is. Those bills usually get rolled in as the budget leaves the House or in the end as it leaves the Senate. That’s the way we’ll know if we’re going to get that funding or not.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
From the all the news account, or lack thereof, nothing has been reported on the status of the city’s $30 million request in funding. Mayor Keller appears not to be that concerned about securing the $10 million from the legislature for his VIP program, at least not as concerned as the sponsors of the bill State Representatives Daymon Ely and Gail Chasey. No doubt its because even if the funding fails, Keller knows the City of Albuquerque has an operating budget of $1.1 billion for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2019 and ends on June 30, 2020. It was the first time in city history that the city operating budget exceed the $1 Billion figure. The 2019-2020 budget represented an overall 11% increase in spending over the previous year.
In May, 2018, 5 months after he assumed office, Mayor Tim Keller also signed into law a gross receipt sales tax increase enacted by the City Council. 70% of the tax was dedicated to public safety. The tax raises $55 million a year in revenue. Keller broke a campaign promise not to raise taxes, even for public safety, without a public vote. The rational for the tax increase was that the city was faced with a $40 million dollar deficit. The deficit never materialized and the tax increase was not repealed.
Mayor Keller has been given everything he has wanted for public safety and then some by the Albuquerque city Council. Its likely the council will again give him more for the VIP Program. On April 1, 2020, Mayor Keller will be submitting his proposed 2020-2021 budget that must be approved after public hearings by the City Council. Gross receipts tax revenues have in fact increased over the last year and it is expected that there will be yet another increase in the city budget and it will exceed last years budget of $1.1 Billion. The City could very easily absorb the loss of $10 million or even the full $30 million being requested from the legislature and that is something the city should have done in the first place.