On Sunday June 14, and during a June 15 press conference, Mayor Tim Keller announced plans to create a new Public Safety Department. The new department will be responsible to send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for service in place of armed APD police officers or firefighters. Although Keller did not disclose the estimated cost of creating the new department, he did provide sufficient information on the personnel needs for the department. This blog article is a discussion of the new department and a projection of the yearly cost of the new department.
The Albuquerque Community Safety Department as envisioned will have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts. They will be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crisis calls for service to APD. The new department will 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, either police or firefighters, who typically have to deal with down-and-out and behavioral health calls.
In a Sunday, June 14 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. APD currently has 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.
Links to related news articles are here:
ESTIMATED COST ESTIMATE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT
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 and no training as paramedics like firefighters.
POLICE OFFICER PAY VERSUS SOCIAL WORKER AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL PAY
The use of social workers and other type of mental health professionals to respond to calls on things like homelessness, addiction, and mental health is something that has been successful and done for a while in other communities. (See article “Everyone benefits when police departments hire social workers” in Postscript.)
Many proponents of community policing also have the philosophy that trying to make social workers out of police officers just does not work. In cities that have started to use social workers, the pay earned by social workers is comparable to what police are paid.
Starting pay for an APD Police Officer immediately out of the APD academy is $29 an hour or $60,320 yearly. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $29 paid hourly = $60,320.) Police officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour or $62,400 yearly. (40-hour work weeks in a year X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $30 paid hourly = $62,400.) Senior Police Officers with 15 years or more experience are paid $31.50 an hour or $65,520 yearly. (40 hours work in a week X 52 weeks in year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $31.50 = $65,520.)
The average Social Worker (MSW) salary in Albuquerque, NM is $60,903 as of July 27, 2020, but the range typically falls between $54,845 and $67,461. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years a person has spent in the profession.
The average Psychologist ( Ph.D) salary in New Mexico is $94,840 as of July 27, 2020, but the range typically falls between $85,334 and $106,510. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.
The Department will also require the hiring of a cabinet level Director. Mayor Keller pays his Department Director an average of $116,000 a year.
Based upon the average salaries paid and the number of projected employees need for each area command, the projected employee costs would be:
32 employees, divided into working three 8 hour shifts for 6 area commands = 192 total. (32 employees X 6 area commands)
Each one of the 6 APD area commands would likely need at least 1 psychologist paid an average salary of at least $85,334, to supervise the social workers and mental health experts for a total salary cost of: $596,040 ($94,840 (average Ph.D, salary) X 6 positions).
The remaining 186 positions, divided into working three 8 hour shifts for 6 area commands would likely be trained social workers licensed and certified to deal with the mentally ill or drug addicted and paid and average salary of $54, 845 for a total salary budget of $10,201, 170.
Total estimated personnel budget:
6 psychologist position salaries: $596,040
186 Social Worker positions: $10,201,170
Department Director: $116,000
The $10,913,210 dollar is only the personnel costs. At least another 10% to 15% or $1.8 million, will need to be added on top of that figure for retirement contributions, city benefits that the city pays for employees and office and equipment needs.
PUBLIC SURVEY ANNOUNCED FOR NEW DEPARTMENT
On August 13, a KOAT TV report stated the new Public Safety Department will include trained professionals like social workers, violence prevention and diversion program experts who will all be able to respond and help first responders with a community safety response. According to the city, the intent of the new department is to help the city’s first responders focus on crime, fires and medical emergencies, while sending trained professionals to respond to calls on things like homelessness, addiction, and mental health. The hope of the new department is to cut down on 911 response times. The department is expected to have a hard start late next year.
A link to the KOAT TV story is here:
The Keller Administrations is seeking public input with an on line survey, 13 question survey. The survey is asking the people of Albuquerque what they want the department to look like.
The public survey includes the following questions:
1. Do you support adding the Community Safety department as a third 911 emergency response option (Police, Fire/Emergency Medical Services, and Community Safety)?
2. What do you think the Community Safety department should do to improve safety in our community? (Multiple choice)
3. In addition to responding to 911 calls, the Community Safety department will be providing follow-up and connecting community to services. What types of services should the Community Safety department connect individuals/families to?
4. What types of issues would be appropriate for Community Safety responders to address without law enforcement? Know that police officers and emergency medical services can be called for back up at any time. Express your comfort level for each issue.
5. What types of issues would be appropriate for a police officer and a Community Safety responder to address together? Express your comfort level for each issue.
6. What supplies and equipment do you think Community Safety responders should carry? (Select all that apply)
7. In the case that an individual is trying to harm themselves or harm others and a Community Safety responder is unable to de-escalate the situation, what do you think is an appropriate response from a Community Safety responder? Express your comfort level for each potential response.
8. What percent of current police calls would you expect the Community Safety department to be able to handle?
9. In which ZIP Code do you live? (enter 5-digit ZIP Code; for example, 87106)
10. What gender do you identify as?
11. What is your age?
12. Which race or ethnicity best describes you? (Select all that apply)
13. Additional comments:
The link to the survey is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Keller is creating and entirely new city department that is on equal footing with all the other 19 city departments, including APD and AFRD, that have hundreds of employees and separate functions, tasks, and services. Mayor Tim 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. 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.”
What is painfully obvious is that the groups that have been working on this issue for several years have not figured out what it will cost and how will it be paid for by the taxpayer. When Mayor Tim Keller says “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 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. It is highly doubtful if the Keller Administration can accomplish implementation within the existing budget given the current financial situation of the city as a result of the covid pandemic and the decline in gross receipts tax revenues.
At this point, the proposed Department of Public Safety ostensibly is a department that is 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. In other words, the Public Safety Department as envisioned at this point does not address behavioral health care long term counseling nor solutions, but only involves “pickup and delivery” of people in crisis to take them either to jail or to a hospital.
In order to be successful, the Mayor’s new department needs to deal with the city’s long-term behavioral health system needs and programs that are desperately needed now and in the future.
In the meantime, you are encouraged to take the survey at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ABQACS
For a related blog article see the below link “Political Plagiarism Is The Highest Form Of Flattery; Keller’s Public Safety Department A “Pick Up And Delivery” Service To Reduce APD Calls For Service”:
Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) is a nonprofit group of law enforcement professionals who advance solutions to public safety issues. On July 23, 2019, the blog published an article written by retired and former Alexandria Police Department Chief Mike Ward who spent 40 years in uniform and retired as the chief of the in Kentucky.
Following is the article:
TITLE: EVERYONE BENEFITS WHEN POLICE DEPARTMENTS HIRE SOCIAL WORKERS
How one Kentucky agency refocused its officers, saved money — and earned new respect from the community.
By Chief Mike Ward (Ret.)
“I’m a big proponent of community policing and have been for years. But it’s my opinion that community policing has failed in one particular area: we have tried to make social workers out of cops, and it just doesn’t work. We’re not wired that way. Social workers do the best social work. Partnering with them didn’t work in our community because there were communication barriers and logistical problems.
I heard about police departments hiring social workers, so we set aside money for it and gave it a shot. It’s totally changed our relationship with the community and saved us tremendous resources so we can focus on calls for service involving criminal issues. Police departments hiring social workers is one way we can reduce the resource drain non-criminal calls for service have on the police and other first responders.
In my agency, 67% of our calls for service were non-criminal related. The last I checked, an even higher percentage of police calls for service nationwide are non-criminal related. We hired two social workers to help our department with these calls.
One instance in which they proved invaluable was with a veteran in the community who had been a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam. Those were the guys who took a flashlight and a .45 and went into the tunnels, killing whomever they came across. He would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, shaking from a nightmare. The only thing that would calm him down was seeing someone in a uniform. Eventually our firemen and EMS stopped going because it required too many resources, so my officers were going. God bless them because if they had the time, they’d make a pot of coffee and talk with him until he calmed down, then they’d leave.
When we hired the police social worker (PSW), the veteran was her first case. She sat down and talked with him, got all his information and written permission to be his advocate. She worked with his doctor, got his meds cleaned up, and talked to the VA. We didn’t hear from him for 9 months. She checked on him and made sure he was taking his meds and doing okay.
One day, the fire department called and asked if they could use our PSW. There was an older gentleman who had cancer. He was at home, and every time he’d fall out of bed, his wife would call 911. The fire department would come and put him back in bed, but he refused transport to the hospital. That’s when the squad became concerned and called for our PSW. They found out the wife had early stages of dementia, and he had stage IV cancer and was in serious pain. Our PSW talked the wife into going with them to the hospital. Long story short, they got to the hospital and the doctor said if they had arrived an hour later, the man would have died. Because we had a PSW, we were able to put him into hospice. The man died 48 hours later. He was able to pass away comfortably and with dignity. Our PSW was also able to follow up with the funeral home and help his wife after his passing.
Those two [PSWs] are the busiest people in my department. Officers heard of the idea [of hiring social workers] and thought I was crazy. But I knew the program was successful when one of my oldest, crustiest officers got a call one day and walked up to our PSW and said, “Come with me. I’ve got a call, and I need your help on it.” No matter what they think, officers are still utilizing them.
Now, the communication is prolific between the officers and social workers, because the social workers work for the police department. They’re not a separate organization working for the city anymore. The officers were the ones getting called, but we didn’t know what Social Services was doing. And when we asked them, they [legally] couldn’t tell us! I was able to remove a barrier between law enforcement and Social Services by bringing them into our fold.
Our social workers are not first responders, they’re second responders. They can go on a call if an officer picks them up or calls them to the scene. But primarily, they’ll go through roll call in the morning when there will be notes on what needs follow-up. If an officer is on the scene at night and needs guidance from a social worker, they can call her at home and she has the discretion of providing advice over the phone or scheduling an appointment to go talk to the family. If she feels it is bad enough that she needs to come out, then she would respond and assist the officer at the scene. This happens more often when juveniles are involved. Our social workers are involved in about 98% of our child sex abuse cases. They work with domestic violence victims. They work with people who don’t have health insurance and don’t know how to get it, so they call the office asking for our help. The social workers know who to call to arrange a meeting to get them healthcare. We have people calling our office and asking to speak to our social worker instead of asking to talk to a police officer. Most of the time, my officers just don’t know what resources there are to help people.
Officers are freed up to do what they need to do. We’re solving problems and helping members of our community like I’ve never seen in my career. I have people walk up to me and thank me for what the social workers are doing. Even from an administrative point of view, a social worker is a whole lot less expensive.
Traditionally, social workers don’t make a lot of money, so we hired them at the same starting salary as we would hire an officer. I bought them a small car for about $16,000, but I didn’t have to put an additional $15,000 worth of equipment in the car like I would for officers. It costs my agency $10,000 in weapons, uniforms, body armor, etc, to outfit one new police officer. I probably spent less than $1,500 on jackets, polo shirts, plus a portable radio for the social workers, and I think I bought them a pair of boots for the winter.”
The link to the article is here: