On Friday, June 13, Albuquerque City Council Pat Davis announced that he and the city council have come up with their own plan to overall the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Davis does not think the council’s reform plan will mean fewer police officers for the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Davis said police officers should not be responding to many calls involving a mental health crisis, homelessness and other behavioral health-related issues.
The Davis proposal would change multiple levels of the department, from reorganizing the police budget and officers’ jobs on the street to emphasizing behavioral health assistance and studies to determine the best route for community engagement. Davis said he believes the city can rededicate $1 million of APD’s $207 million budget to community organizations and social services. Davis is also suggesting a 24/7 dispatch line for calls regarding the homeless that would be answered by those in a public health role and not by the APD reducing APD’s volume of 911 emergency calls.
Davis also announced that the council will meet with the community in July to gain input into possible changes to APD’s budget, police operations and other avenues where funds could be placed to better the community. Davis had this to say:
“I think the mayor and I both share an appreciation that we don’t think politicians should just be deciding where dollars come out and where they go. … We don’t want to get into this knee-jerk reaction that we can solve this by just writing a check, so we’re trying to figure out how we can create a process.”
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Police Officers’ Association, labeled City Councilor President’s “defund the police reforms as Davis’ “political pandering”. He added saying the possible cuts to funding were “ignorant, idiotic and ludicrous” saying the department is already understaffed. He said, if Davis wants better community policing, the city needs to invest in more officers and not undermine the reform efforts under the Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).
MAYOR KELLER ANNOUNCES NEW PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT
On Sunday June 14, in a phone interview with the Albuquerque Journal, the very day after City Councilor Pat Davis announced the City Councils plan to overall APD, Mayor Tim Keller announced plans to create a new Public Safety Department that would send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for help in place of armed officers. The Albuquerque Community Safety Department would have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts who would be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crises. The new department would connect people in need with services to help address any underlying issues. The department personnel would be dispatched through the city’s 911 emergency call system. The intent is to free up the first responders who typically have to deal with down-and-out and behavioral health calls.
In his Sunday, June 14 phone interview Keller said “down and out” calls usually end with someone going to jail or to a hospital. According to Keller:
“And the determiner of [whether a person goes to jail or a hospital] is either firefighter or police [officer]. … Neither of them should be making that initial call, unless it’s a situation of violence. … We’re just expecting them to solve every individual’s problem, and I think that’s totally unfair to them and their training. … We should have trained professionals do this, instead of folks with a gun and a badge. But in general, that’s what we have to fix.”
Mayor Tim Keller, despite the change in the national conversation and calls for police departments to be defunded, said his goal is still adding 100 police officers every four years to the point APD is fully funded with 1,200 sworn police. It is projected APD will have 985 sworn police officers after the graduation of the July APD Academy class. In a Channel 4 interview, Keller had this to say:
“We have to adequately fund violent crime law enforcement, and that means we got to get those other officers, but here in Albuquerque, we can do things– like, we’re trying to shift towards diversion programs, towards violence intervention programs. … All of these are essentially, many ways, decriminalizing sort of the interaction between the police and individuals. And so trying to have more civilian interactions and trying to invest in communities, trying to invest in upstream issues like education and poverty, we absolutely have to do a better job at that.”
On June 15, Mayor Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair held a press conference to discuss details of the new Public Safety Department. It was reported that very few details had been worked out and the new department is still in the planning process. The Keller Administration said rough estimates suggest the new Community Safety Department will need 32 people for each its 6 area commands, staffed around the clock, to respond to tens of thousands of calls a year. The Keller Administration intends to submit a final fiscal year budget in August for City Council budget hearing.
Mayor Tim Keller, despite the change in the national conversation and calls for police departments to be defunded, said his goal is still adding 100 police officers every four years to the point APD is fully funded with 1,200 sworn police. It is projected APD will have 985 sworn police officers after the graduation of the July APD Academy class.
Links to related news articles are here:
GUS PEDROTTY, 2017 CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR
If Mayor Tim Keller’s “new idea” to send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for service in place of armed APD officers sounds at all familiar, it’s because it was a concept that former Mayoral Candidate Gus Pedrotty, then 22, proposed when he was one of the 7 candidates who ran against Tim Keller for Mayor. Pedrotty did his homework on the issues facing the city and he ran issues-based campaign. Crime, homelessness and mental health care services were 3 of those issues. Pedrotty sounded, and many would say, far more informed than all the other candidates at the forums and debates.
WEEKLY ALIBI INTERVIEW
On June 16, 2017, the Weekly Albi published one of the first interviews of the 2017 Mayors race. The following question and answer was published:
Weekly Alibi: One of the things you talked about in your introduction was healthcare. How important is healthcare for our citizens, with regards to public safety and for citizens who are marginalized?
Gus Pedrotty: To put it in simple terms, healthcare is everything. We tout our civilization as having a longer life expectancy; we have security in our bodies. But anyone watching this or reading this knows what a personal healthcare crisis does to your productivity, to your mental state, you know how crippling it can be … it’s hard to engage in our society if you’re unhealthy. Going back to the Hyde shootings, when Ray Schultz was chief of police, it clearly showed that we [city government] didn’t have the capacity to deal with mental health in the community, and it resulted in a [police] culture of violence that resulted in the Boyd shooting and all the ones in between, that brought the DOJ here. Of course healthcare is related to public safety. We’ve chosen to engage this as a problem we can fix. When it comes to public safety, we don’t give people resources to be better. … One of the biggest ways we can start to encourage mental health outcomes and how they affect our city is to begin cooperating with programs that already exist, pairing Albuquerque Heading Home with the already existing healthcare structure. Homelessness is not just not having a home. It’s everything that comes with it. I’m interested in holistic and contextualized solutions.”
“WHY WE RUN” INTERVIEW
On Sep 21, 2017, in an interview with the on line publication “Why We Run” Mr. Pedrotty had this to say:
“We had an incident, in our city, involving the shooting of a homeless person by our police force. I went to all the rallies and protests, sat with the community organizers, and I saw that the city government was not paying attention to us. They were systematically marginalizing a population that I didn’t realize had been marginalized for so long. And after our city kept ignoring these groups who were protesting, all this community engagement culminated in what the media deemed a “riot.”
As it went on, I saw a militarized police force show up. It was the first time I had encountered that and I walked the riot line and looked into the faces of these people who were supposed to be on our side, and we were sizing each other up like threats. Eventually, they tear-gased the crowd. I’m not assigning fault, but it did make me start thinking about what our responsibilities are, as citizens to their city, and as a city to their citizens.
I also started working with Project Echo. Healthcare is one of the most complex structures in our country. Project Echo approached it as a contextual thing — if we understand what’s happening socially, if we treat things in context, we can provide better outcomes. We looked at the entire umbrella of healthcare — from peer-to-peer workers, community representatives — and how they could provide care outside of hospitals, which reduces strain on taxpayers.
And our city never cooperated with this work. They have asked how the model could be used to deal with situations of addiction and homelessness in our community, that underline the things we quickly and irresponsibly label as “crime.”
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL QUESTIONNAIRE
During the 2017 Mayor’s race, the Albuquerque Journal sent out a questionnaire, as it always does, asking candidates questions they deem are important. The Answers submitted are usually edited down and gives little chance for expansion. Following are the first two Journal questions and answers given by Gus Pedrotty:
1. What is the biggest issue facing the city, and how would you address it?
Crime, but crime is a symptom of economics, health, and opportunity. We’ll address mental health and homelessness to decrease crime. In turn, we’ll create a larger and more invigorated workforce and business climate to bring jobs and opportunity to Albuquerque.
2. What would you do to tackle Albuquerque’s crime problem?
Finish the Department of Justice mandate, fully staff police and legal departments, and overhaul emergency service delivery. Through non-officer, service-based response to homelessness and addiction, we save money, reduce strain on officers, and provide better outcomes and services for all residents.
The link to the full questionnaire is here:
PETER CUBRA GUEST EDITORIAL COLUMN
Peter Cubra is a highly respected New Mexico civil rights attorney. He represents a class of individuals at the Metropolitan Detention Center with physical or mental disabilities in the McClendon class-action lawsuit, a federal civil rights case that is still being litigated on behalf of that group of inmates. He’s also filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of people with mental disabilities in the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the city alleging excessive force by police.
On June 22, the Albuquerque Journal published the following guest editorial column written by Mr. Cubra:
Headline: Two Obvious Fixes For APD Are Staring Us In The Face
“Since 1984, I have worked with the city, county, court system and jail attempting to improve how law enforcement and the legal system deal with people with disabilities. I believe the “defund police” movement can guide how to improve Albuquerque’s longstanding problems.
The U.S. Department of Justice identified APD as among America’s most violent police departments, with an unconstitutional “culture of aggression;” and certain APD employees and police union members still resist real culture change. So I understand why many people suggest entirely replacing our police department with other mechanisms that aren’t staffed by personnel acculturated to aggression and led by supervisors habituated to unnecessarily using force.
Nonetheless, rather than completely “un-funding APD,” I support the approach suggested by Christy Lopez, a retired Department of Justice lawyer, who wrote, “Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.”
As a first step, I support City Council President Pat Davis’ proposal to study APD staffing to determine which of APD’s current activities should be performed by others instead. Mayor Keller’s newly proposed “Community Safety Department” could bring vast improvements, some day, if properly conceptualized, resourced and administered.
Without any study or new department, two APD activities should be performed by others, immediately.
In 2003, a homeless man with schizophrenia who was frequently arrested for petty offenses resisted another arrest, shooting APD Sergeant Carol Oleksak with her gun. In response, Mayor Martin Chavez convened a summit to “address the issues of mental illness and homelessness.” Thereafter, APD created its “Crisis Outreach and Support Team” (COAST), comprised of “civilian employees supervised by a department sergeant” who provide “crisis intervention, access to mental health services, and education” and “perform case follow up in order to connect individuals in need with service providers.”
None of COAST’s functions are “policing,” but the city has refused to move those tasks from APD to another entity that serves people experiencing homelessness and/or mental disabilities. No study is necessary to know that tracking down people with mental disabilities to encourage them to participate in treatment is not “policing.” Transferring the resources of the COAST team out of APD is a no-brainer. But the city’s administration hasn’t done it.
When a family member wants help getting mental health treatment for a loved one, the city sends APD officers to conduct “welfare checks” despite frequent, including recent, tragic results. On March 30, APD officers responded to Valente Acosta-Bustillos’ family’s request for a welfare check. Two police officers went to his home, ultimately shooting him to death. On June 4th, Max Mitnick’s family similarly called 911 requesting help getting Max mental health treatment. Reportedly, Max had not threatened anyone when the call was made. Nonetheless only police responded, then shot him in the head.
Mental health professionals, not police, should be in charge of “welfare checks.”
The core problem is budgetary. Albuquerque spends one third of its general funds on APD and almost nothing on mental health services. The city’s budgets for 2014 and 2020 prove the point: In fiscal 2014, Animal Welfare received $10,069,000, Parks and Recreation $36,072,000, mental health services $2,470,000 and police $163,070,000. In fiscal 2020, Animal Welfare received $12,512,000, Parks and Recreation $42,888,000, mental health services $3,696,000 and police $210,057,000.
Albuquerque spends three times as much on animal welfare as it spends on mental health services, more than 10 times as much on parks and recreation, and spends 50 times more on APD than it spends on mental health services. This year, Albuquerque is spending more on golf courses – $5,146,000 – than on mental health services. As Lopez said, Albuquerque needs to “invest more in mental-health care and housing and expand the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.”
If not now, when?”
The link to the Peter Cubra guest column is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
During the 2017 Mayor’s race, the voters and the other candidates running were very dismissive of Gus Pedrotty, many did not take him serious nor his ideas, because of his age. Some said he had no business running for Mayor because of his age and his lack of experience. Truth is, none of the candidates Pedrotty ran against had any experience being Mayor. I have found that my generation (55+) has a real bad habit of underestimating the talents, abilities and wisdom of millennials that Mr. Pedrotty represented. Voters and his opponents made a major mistake not listening to what Mr. Pedrotty said during the election. It is a Mayor’s job, and indeed any leaders job, to present ideas and solutions in broad strokes and set the goals and objectives, hold people accountable and not hide from problems and surround yourself with those who can carry out your objectives. Mr.Pedrotty did not just wave, look good and just smile parroting talking points but actually had real substance.
Mayor Keller’s creation of a Public Safety Department really is nothing knew when it comes to the types of services it will be providing with experts who would be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls and the behavioral health crises services. Using the term “Public Safety Department” is rebranding of old ideas. The suggestions have been made for a number of years, even before Mayor Tim Keller was elected, during the 2017 Mayor’s race by Gus Pedrotty and before that with the implementation of the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating 276 reforms by APD. It is disappointing that Mayor Keller felt he was in some sort of competition for press coverage with Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis. There was absolutely no need for him to call the Albuquerque Journal to do an interview announcing his plans which were also going to be the subject of a full-blown press conference the next day. What is even a bigger disappointment is how Mayor Tim Keller essentially ignored Gus Pedrotty and gave him the cold shoulder after the election when he should have brought him into city hall.
Most of the suggestions proposed by City Councilor Pat Davis to overhaul APD are included in Mayor Keller’s proposal for the creation of a Department of Public Safety or are mandated by Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating 276 police reforms. It is very likely that Pat Davis was very familiar with the ongoing plans of Mayor Keller, saw an opportunity to steal the limelight and credit from Mayor Keller. Councilor Pat Davis Saying “I think the mayor and I both share an appreciation that we don’t think politicians should just be deciding where dollars come out and where they go” is down right disingenuous seeing that is all Pat Davis has been doing since elected to the city council, with the ART Bus project being just one example.
Notwithstanding, the two fixes being proposed by attorney Peter Cubra in his Journal guest column letter are ones that need to be adopted and are solid ideas. It is also likely Mr. Cubra could not careless who gets credit for the ideas, so Keller or Davis should have no problem holding a press conference, separately or jointly, to take credit for Mr. Cubra’s recommendations. They already have the experience in the area political plagiarism when it comes to Gus Pedrotty.