On Friday, June 12, the Albuquerque Journal ran a front page story that Albuquerque City Council Pat Davis and the city council had come up with a plan to overall the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) where police officers would not be responding to many calls involving a mental health crisis, homelessness and other behavioral health-related issues. The council 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.
Under the City Council plan, sweeping changes to APD’s operations would be mandated. APD operates a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), trained to respond to tense behavioral health calls. Davis said CIT functions could be diverted to Albuquerque Fire Rescue or some other public health role. Davis said:
“We totally divest the idea of behavioral health and law enforcement unless there’s a critical incident, that’s a real thing we can do.”
The link to the full Albuquerque Journal article is here:
MAYOR KELLER DETERMINED NOT TO BE OUTDONE BY DAVIS
As if not to be done by City Councilor Pat Davis, over the Saturday, June 13 weekend, Mayor Tim Keller and his Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair contacted the Albuquerque Journal and other news outlets by phone, including The Washington Post, to announce he was creating a new Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACSD). The City Department would send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for help in instead of armed APD Police Officers or AFRD Firefighters and paramedics.
According to reports, the Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACSD) will 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 dispatched to those who are having a behavioral health crises. The Department is to respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to 911 calls involving behavioral health, homelessness, addiction and other social issues. Keller said the new department could respond to “nonviolent and noncriminal” welfare checks.
In his Sunday phone interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Keller said “down and out” calls usually end up with someone going to jail or to a hospital. According to Keller:
“And the determiner of [going to jail or the 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.”
One goal for Keller’s new department is to 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.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE
On June 15, 2020, the Washington Post reported:
“As calls to defund law enforcement reach a fever pitch nationwide, New Mexico’s largest city is answering concerns about its police department by forming an alternative.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (D) announced on Monday the formation of a new public safety department designed to relieve stress on the city’s police. Instead of the police or fire departments responding to 911 calls related to inebriation, homelessness, addiction and mental health, the new division will deploy unarmed personnel made up of social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention coordinators.
The department, called Albuquerque Community Safety, may be the first of its kind, experts say. A spokesperson for the mayor told The Washington Post the new department was partially the city’s response to the “defund the police” movement.
“There is a huge portion of our community that doesn’t necessarily want two officers showing up when they call about a situation with respect to behavioral and mental health,” the mayor said in an interview Sunday. “So this is a new path forward for us that has been illuminated because of what we’ve learned during these times. Look, there’s political will; there was not political will to make this huge of a step three weeks ago.”
Albuquerque’s plan for a new branch of public safety comes amid a nationwide movement to slash police department funding after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis.
The national protests fueled by racial tensions spilled into the streets of Albuquerque, where black or African American people make up less than 3 percent of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Keller’s announcement of the new department comes as the police department for the Southwestern city of more than half a million faces federal oversight because of its problematic history with use of force.
JUNE 15 FORMAL ANNOUNCEMENT
On June 15, the Keller Administration issued a formal announcement on the creation of the statement on the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department. The formal announcement states that “the Albuquerque Community Safety department will restructure thousands of calls on homelessness, addiction and mental health into the hands of trained professionals and keep officers focused on core police work and reform efforts.”
Following is the statement in part:
CAPTION: MAYOR TIM KELLER TO REFOCUS MILLIONS IN PUBLIC SAFETY RESOURCES WITH FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND CIVILIAN RESPONSE DEPARTMENT
“In a groundbreaking first that puts our community at the forefront of a national conversation on public safety, Mayor Tim Keller announced today that he is creating a third department of first responders at the City of Albuquerque. Albuquerque Community Safety, a cabinet-level department, will serve alongside the Albuquerque Police Department and Albuquerque Fire Rescue to deliver a civilian-staffed, public health approach to safety. The new department is the culmination of two years of preliminary work to change the way Albuquerque handles public safety, and comes amid nationwide calls to move resources away from armed police response as a one-size-fits-all answer.
Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) will include trained professionals such as social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, violence prevention and diversion program experts. The department will give 9-1-1 dispatch an option when a community safety response is more appropriate than a paramedic, fire-fighter, or armed police officer. The City will be working with community members, experts and City Councilors over the next two months to map out the details of the department, which will reallocate millions of dollars. These efforts will bolster expanded investments in violence intervention, diversion programs and treatment initiatives.”
LONG ON PUBLIC RELATIONS, SHORT ON DETAILS
During the June 14 press conference announcing the new department it was reported that very few details had been worked out and the new department was still in the planning process. During the press conference, Keller said rough estimates suggested 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.
During the June 14, press conference, Chief Administrative officer Sarita Nair had this to say:
“Now that we’ve said ‘let’s create this third response department [in addition to APD and AFRD], we’ll begin the process of really getting into the weeds of what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to affect dispatch, how this is going to look in terms of staffing, what are the [standard operating procedures] going to look like. … We have to think through all of these issues now, and that’s where the input from community and experts is going to be really critical.”
Links to related news articles are here:
WELFARE CHECK ESCALATING INTO APD KILLING IMPETUS TO DEPARTMENT
In late March, two APD police officers were dispatched to do a welfare check on Valente Acosta-Bustillos, 52. The man’s family was worried because he had not shown up for work nor answered his phone in several days. Before arriving at the man’s residence, the officers ran a background check and found Acosta-Bustillos was wanted on a felony warrant for failing to appear in a court hearing and the police offers then decided to try to arrest him. The Acosta-Bustillos arrest warrant stemmed from A conflict with a neighbor that resulted in an altercation. Acosta-Bustillos was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
APD lapel camera video shows that APD officers chased Acosta-Bustillos inside the house to arrest him. Acosta-Bustillos armed himself with a shovel presumably to resist arrest. Acosta-Bustillos began swinging at the officers whereupon they shot him. Acosta-Bustillos was mortally wounded and died at a hospital.
Mayor Keller was asked about the Acosta-Bustillos shooting and asked it played any part in creating the new department. Keller responded that had the new department been in place in March, its staff could have performed the welfare check instead of police officers and he said:
“In general, yes, that’s a big reason why we’re doing this department. … We know that in Albuquerque we have to respect the core police work that we need in our town. … But we also have to include the fact that we have to prioritize non-law enforcement alternatives.”
WHERE WILL FUNDING COME FROM
Keller emphasized that the city will not divert money from core police work or the Department of Justice (DOJ) reform efforts that the APD has been undertaking for the last 6 years. In 2014, a DOJ investigation found that APD had a “culture of aggression” and had a pattern of excessive force and deadly force against the mentally ill.
According to Keller:
“We can do this with the existing budget, because these groups – our Homeless Advisory Council, our Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, One Albuquerque Kid’s Cabinet – they have all been working and talking about this issue for several years.”
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REFORMS DEAL WITH MENTALLY ILL
On April 10, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, submitted investigation report on an 18-month civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Based on the investigation and the review of excessive use of force and deadly force cases, the DOJ found that a “culture of aggression” existed within APD. The DOJ found “reasonable cause to believe that APD engage[d] in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment … . A significant number of the use of force cases reviewed by the DOJ involved persons suffering from acute mental illness and who were in crisis.” The investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respected their rights and in a manner that was safe for all involved.
On November 10, 2014 the City and APD entered into a federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating sweeping changes to APD policy and training on the use of force and deadly force. Under the consent decree, two major reforms have been implemented to deal with the mentally ill by APD:
1.“Constitutional policing” practices and methods, and mandatory crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have been implemented with all sworn police officers having received 40 hours of mandatory crisis management intervention training.
2.A Mental Health Response Advisory Committee has been created. Its purpose is to provide guidance to the City of Albuquerque Police Department on the DOJ reforms. The committee consists of members from all walks of life and are committed to improving the lives of those with mental illness and their interactions with law enforcement in Albuquerque. The committee include providers, the Police, the court system, advocates, family members and consumers. The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee analyzes and recommends appropriate changes to policies, procedures, and training methods regarding police contact with persons who may be mentally ill or experiencing a mental health crisis.
ENACTED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE TAX
On February 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8 % gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually.
The intent of the tax is to invest the funding “in proven ways to better manage the high cost of addiction, homelessness and mental health problems”. According to a county commission announcement, “these issues impact families throughout the community and drive up the cost of public services, especially at the Metropolitan Detention Center.” The gross receipts tax costs shoppers one cent on a $10 purchase of goods and services.
The 1/8th% gross receipts tax is be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. The intent is to provide a safety net system for those in need of mental health not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
Since enactment of the tax in 2015, the tax has generated $91.6 million. The county has spent $20 million of the money but has earmarked the bulk of what it amassed for one-time expenditures. Those expenditures include $30 million for a new crisis triage center, $12 million for supportive housing and $4 million for the Bernalillo County CARE campus, formerly known as the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center, or MATS. The renovations to the CARE campus when complete will create an outpatient behavioral health clinic and living room space for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.
DUPLICATION OF EFFORTS
Mayor Tim Keller’s new Public Safety Department is an attempt to duplicate the Bernalillo County Behavioral health tax and plan and programs on many levels. The tax and the programs are both county and citywide. According to the Bernalillo County “Public Health Projects” webs site, there are 5 projects that have been approved and committed annual funding of each of those projects are as follows:
1. Mobile Crisis Teams – $1 million BC/$340,000 ABQ
“The mobile crisis teams will respond to individuals experiencing a nonviolent behavioral health crisis that necessitates a 911-response. Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) are to be dispatched and will consist of a crisis intervention unit deputy paired with a masters’ level, behavioral health clinician.”
2. Transition Planning and Re-entry Resource Center – $1,341,188 in year one; $1,041,188 annually thereafter.
“On a daily basis, the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) releases individuals back to the community who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders, among other complications. The lack of a system for coordinated care as incarcerated individuals’ transition from jail to community contributes to recidivism and impedes efforts to generate more positive health outcomes for these individuals. The project includes funding transition planners at MDC and creating a Re-entry Resource Center (RRC) for an effective front door into a network of services.
3. Expansion of the County’s Community Connections Supportive Housing Program – not to exceed $1 million.
“This expansion will focus on individuals with behavioral health issues residing in the community who are homeless or precariously housed and is estimated to provide a minimum of 55 housing vouchers with case management service.”
4. Community Connections Re-entry Supportive Housing – $1.3 million from Bernalillo County; $503,000 from City of ABQ
“This project provides intensive case management and services linked with scattered site housing to a target population of homeless or precariously housed persons with mental illness or co-occurring disorders or other disabilities and whose lack of community-based services have resulted in criminal justice system involvement.”
5. Community Engagement Team
“Community Engagement Teams (CET) help people and their families voluntarily cope with the effects of mental illness and substance abuse disorders, whether individual or co-occurring, in the comfort and familiarity of their homes and communities. The CET helps individuals avoid the criminal justice system and emergency mental health systems whenever possible. The CET in Bernalillo County requires an individualized, recovery-focused approach that promotes wellness, self-management, personal recovery, natural supports, coping skills, self-advocacy and the development of independent living skills. CETs can be considered part of a continuum of services rendered outside institution walls that include assertive community treatment, the crisis intervention unit, crisis outreach and support team, public inebriate intervention, and law enforcement response.”
BERNALILLO COUNTY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH BUSINESS PLAN
On December 15, 2015 the Behavioral Health Business Plan was release by the Community Partners, Inc. (CPI). CPI was selected to provide consultation and develop a business plan for a cohesive, regional system of behavioral health care, with an emphasis on coordinated crisis services. The business plan was done in part to help make decision on how to use the funding generated by the county commission Behavioral Health Tax.
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH BUSINESS PLAN FRAMEWORK
The Behavioral Health Business Plan outlines a framework for a comprehensive system of care for people living with mental illness and or substance use disorders in the greater Bernalillo County – Albuquerque area. The Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Business Plan is based on national best-practice guidelines for mental health crisis-care systems to develop a comprehensive, coordinated system for crisis stabilization.
According to the business plan:
“An integrated treatment program requires collaboration across disciplines with treatment planning that concurrently addresses both mental illness and substance use disorders. Treatment services that address both conditions at once are associated with lower costs and better outcomes including:
1. Decreased hospitalizations
2. Fewer arrests
3. Improvement in psychiatric symptoms
4. Reduced substance use
5. Improved quality of life.”
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH ACTION PLAN
The Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Action Plan has 13 major objections or goals in allocating money already accumulated from the behavioral tax enacted by the Bernalillo County Commission. The highest priority is the creation of a crisis network that provides high-quality and coordinated care to anyone experiencing a psychiatric crisis, including those with a substance abuse condition.
Following are the recommended steps and components of a system based on recovery-oriented care, assessment of current local and state services, and unmet needs identified:
“1. Establish an Administrative Structure as defined by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Commission (ABCGC).
2. Expand Crisis Stabilization Services while exploring the potential for future development of a Crisis Stabilization Center.
3. Establish a Crisis Call Center with a single telephone number for a crisis line and expanded services that include three-way calling, 911 transfers on non-emergency mental health calls, and dispatch of mobile crisis teams to the community.
4. Create Crisis Mobile Response Teams to respond to people experiencing a psychiatric crisis in the community, independent of and/or in concert with Albuquerque Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU) or Crisis Outreach and Support Teams (COAST).
5. Develop Crisis Respite Care services for adults and youth, providing continued support and crisis stabilization after discharge from a higher level of care.
6. Create Intermediate Levels of Care for adults with co-occurring disorders requiring clinically managed care for up to six months, as needed. Services are designed to help connect the person to community supports and services that promote recovery, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).
7. Expand Transitional Living Services for female adolescents struggling with substance use issues, providing treatment, education, life skills training, case management and employment-support services in a therapeutic setting for up to six months.
8. Develop Intensive Case Management Teams for adults and youth that help them remain in their current place of residence through their recovery process, linking them to community and treatment resources.
9. Create a Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Team to work in concert with the adult detention center’s discharge planner and the Supportive Housing Program, providing 24/7/365 treatment and support services for inmates recently released into the community who received mental health and/or substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.
10. Develop Substance Abuse Outpatient Services for adults who require clinically managed outpatient care, also as defined by ASAM.
11. Establish a pilot Community Engagement Team (CET) to conduct outreach to individuals with serious mental illness who are challenged to live safely in the community, and engage them voluntarily in treatment and/or other services. CET goals include reducing the individual’s rate of law-enforcement interventions and decreasing hospitalizations.
12. Develop Crisis Transportation Services providing urgent, unscheduled transportation to individuals and families needing immediate access to crisis stabilization care, including crisis respite care. This service is critical to people getting the right care at the right time, thus reducing access barriers.
13. Expand School-based Substance Abuse Intervention services in the high schools to ensure each school has at least one dedicated substance abuse therapist who works with students and parents/guardians providing treatment, education and prevention strategies for reducing the student’s substance use.
14. Establish a pilot program for Early Prevention and Family Intervention services that address the needs of infants and children up to age 5 and their families, with a specialized, home-based treatment program to prevent or minimize the effects of childhood psychiatric disorders and/or traumatic events.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Keller’s creation of a Public Safety Department may be in his words a “first of its kind cabinet level department”. The words no doubt made for good press, locally and nationally. The truth is that an entire new “cabinet level department” is really not needed, other than for show. When you review the June 15 press conference in its entirety, it is as if Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair and Mayor Tim Keller read the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Action Plan, changed a few words, and then slapped a Keller’ “One Albuquerque” logo on it. Political plagiarism is the highest form of flattery.
Mayor Keller is creating and entirely new city department that is on equal footing with all the other 16 city department, including APD and AFRD, that have hundreds of employees and separate functions, tasks and services. By Mayor Keller’s own admission, the new department will have 32 people for each its 6 area commands, or a total of 192 employees at a minimum, ostensibly working 3 separate 8 hour shifts to be able to respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as proposed, with none to have law enforcement powers of arrest. The Department will also require the hiring of a cabinet level Director that Keller will pay well over $100,000 a year. When Keller tells the Washington Post “There is a huge portion of our community that doesn’t necessarily want two officers showing up”, it is doubtful the same people will want 4 others dressed in white coats to do the same thing. If that is indeed the case, the city will have to divert considerable resources to hire trained mental health care professionals, social workers and crisis intervention councilors to assume the responsibilities and handle the calls for service that were before handled by APD officers and Firefighters.
The proposed Department of Public Safety ostensibly is a department that is nothing but a solution to reduce APD’s calls for service involving mental health calls and to transfer such calls to another civilian department with mental health experts to deal with those in crisis. The Public Safety Department as envisioned does not address behavioral health care solutions, but only involves “pickup and delivery” of people in crisis to take them either to jail or to a hospital. Regrettably, the Mayor’s new department is lacking to deal with the city’s long-term behavioral health system needs and programs that are desperately needed.
Bernalillo County’s efforts for behavioral health programs is superior and is critical to addressing the city and counties behavioral health care needs and in turn the states. New Mexico now is ranked number one in the country in suicides. For that reason alone, Bernalillo County needs to explore expansion far more outreach programs, especially with our youth to deal with high suicide rates. Such programs need to include working with the city and the Albuquerque Public Schools to offer counseling services to our youth.
It’s too bad Mayor Keller rushed his announcement of a new Public Safety Department as an obvious response to the City Council’s plan. Mayor Keller and his Chief Administrative Officer would have been better served to confer with Bernalillo County and find out how its really done to deal with the City’s long-term mental health care services that are lacking. More importantly, the City needs to explore how is can cooperate and partner with the county to implement the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Action Plan. That will require Mayor Keller to share the press coverage, something he is not known or willing to do on any level, especially now that he has made it known he is running for a second term as Mayor.
Links to related blog articles: