On Wednesday, July 21, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced during a White House news conference that 35 federal agents were being sent to Albuquerque as part of the expansion of “Operation Legend”. Six other cities with high violent crime rates were also sent federal agents.
During the press announcement, President Trump said there has been a “shocking explosion” of “heinous crimes” in where their leadership wants to “defund, defame or abolish” police departments. Trump severely criticized city leaders headed by Democrats throughout the country for not doing enough to combat crime and for putting the “interests of criminals” above law-abiding citizens. Trump said:
“Under Operation Legend, we will also soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help. … Other cities need help. They need it badly. They should call. They should want it. They’re too proud or they’re too political to do that. One of them is Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
MAYOR KELLER AND CHIEF GEIER OVER REACT TO OPERATION LEGEND
In response to Trumps announcement of Operation Legend, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier issued the following press releases:
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller statement:
Our hearts are with … every family who has been victim to gun violence–a decade-old problem that remains our top priority. Unfortunately, look at the President’s own words: he’s ready to incite violence in Democratic cities as a re-election strategy built on gaslighting immigrants and people of color. We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque. Operation Legend is not real crime-fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe.
APD Chief Michael Geier statement:
“Contrary to claims by politicians in Washington. D.C., Albuquerque has been keeping overall violent crime flat and has reduced homicides thus far this year. We have made reducing gun violence a top priority and have worked with our community to make the city safer. While we welcome any assistance and additional resources to address violent crime, the President promised help in the past and has not yet followed through. We are still waiting on the $10 million Operation Relentless Pursuit funding that was promised last year to help us with our goal to hire more officers and to bring in additional federal law enforcement agents to assist us in our crime fighting efforts. While I will try to remain optimistic, I won’t hold my breath until we see all this actually come to fruition.”
NEW MEXICO U.S. ATTORNEY JOHN ANDERSON REACTS
U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson reacted to the Keller and Geier statements and said the goal of Operation Legend is to reduce gun violence in Albuquerque and said:
“Any effort to compare Operation Legend to what’s going on in Portland is baseless and misguided. … There is no connection between those two. The federal law enforcement resources that are being deployed are directed at reducing gun violence; they are not directed at arresting or controlling protesters; they are not being directed at restricting anyone’s right to protest. … They are not being directed at immigration enforcement, and they are not being directed at protecting statues. It’s limited to the exclusive goal of eliminating the scourge of gun violence.”
Scott Howell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office had this to say about Operation Legend:
“We evaluate cases for Operation Legend on a case-by case basis. … We look at a defendant’s actions and criminal history in making the decision to include the case as part of Operation Legend.”
SUCCESS OF OPERATION LEGEND REPORTED
On August 28, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson reported that in a little over a month since federal agents arrived in Albuquerque as part of Operation Legend, 19 violent felons have been arrested on federal charges. According to Anderson, it is just a small number of people driving the majority of violent crime in Albuquerque, and their goal is to get those people off the streets. The Department of Justice (DOJ), including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, is targeting people with lengthy and violent criminal histories and convicted felons accused of crimes like carjacking, illegally shooting guns and drug dealing.
U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson had this to say:
“Operation Legend is about combating dangerous crime and gun crime in our cities. … It’s not about policing any kind of protest in our city. It’s not about immigration enforcement. … We are really looking at the people who are driving the violent crime epidemic in Albuquerque. … We are looking to remove the most violent folks from communities, not simply rack up arrest numbers of people who do not have serious criminal histories. … There are more cases on which prosecution has been initiated, but I can’t say more about them because they are under [court] seal. … More than anything, I hope to see reduction in violent crime and people feeling safer living and working in the city.”
According to Anderson, the 35 federal agents assigned to Albuquerque under Operation Legend will remain until at least the end of September. At that point, they will re-evaluate violent crime rates and stay longer if needed.
19 FEDERALLY CHARGED AND 22 ARRESTS REPORTED
Anderson said at least 19 violent felons have been federally charged. The best example given by Anderson was naming Luis Talamantes-Romero as the murderer of Jacqueline Vigil, age 55. Vigil is the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers, who was murdered in her car as she tried to leave her home very early in the morning for the gym. Talamantes is identified as a member of Juaritos Maravilla, a violent street gang operating in Albuquerque.
Vigil’s slaying became Albuquerque’s highest profile unsolved homicide for 8 months until the FBI stepped in to help in July with Operation Legend. APD never made an arrest in the case, but the FBI made 5 arrests. Although Talamantes has been charged federally with illegal entry into the United State a 4th time and awaiting sentencing, Anderson made it clear that it is up to the state to file murder charges against Talamantes-Romero. Anderson did give APD credit with having done work on the case.
On August 30, Channel 4 and Channel 7 reported that on Saturday August 29, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office as part of Operation Legend worked with the federal agents to patrol southeast Albuquerque. The law enforcement sweep resulted in 22 arrests with 14 of those arrests made for felonies. The arrests included the seizure of guns, illicit drugs and a stolen vehicle. At least two of the cases will be prosecuted by the United State Attorney’s Office. Based on the news coverage, APD did not participate in the enforcement action with only the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office providing uniformed law enforcement assistance to make arrests.
EDITOR’S COMMENTARY: The likely explanations for the absence of APD sworn police from the August 29 law enforcement sweep is the fact that Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez, even though he has over 2 years left in his second term, has made it known he will be running against Mayor Tim Keller next year for Mayor. Gonzales attended the White House press conference announcing Operation Legend and Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Geier condemned Operation Legend as “secret police”.
Links to the news coverage are here:
TEN MILLION GRANT FUNDING
Included in Operation Legend is $10 million to the city to hire 40 police officers. The purpose of hiring the additional police officers is to help make sure crime stays down after federal agents leave. It is still not certain if the city will actually accept the funding. The grant must be approved by the city council.
The Keller Administration is taking issue with one of the requirements of the grant, which is part of the Operation Legend, that says the grant funding cannot be awarded to a City if it is a “sanctuary city”. U.S. Attorney John Anderson had this to say about the grant funding:
“My understanding was that there was concern about the immigration condition in the grant documents [and] the money is now in limbo. … In order to get that funding, the city has to sign off on the award document and officially accept the award. … At this point the city has not done that yet.”
Anderson said he believes Albuquerque is the only city of the 7 cities involved with Operation Legend that has yet to accept the grant money. Albuquerque is on pace for another record-breaking year of homicides, and Anderson believes the city can use the grant money.
On August 28, Mayor Keller responded to questions about the grant funding and said:
“I do believe it has to go to council and I think we got assurances [from the feds] that the funding wasn’t going to be anything like what we saw in Portland. … We got those [assurances] in writing and then we notified them that ‘okay let’s try to work together like we always do.”
The Albuquerque Police Department has confirmed the $10 Million Grant is going to the city council for approval, and added the grant money was discussed before the launch of Operation Legend.
“SANCTUARY CITY” VERSUS “IMMIGRANT FRIENDLY” CITY
The award and acceptance of the $10 Million Federal grant has been politicized by those that falsely claim that Albuquerque is a “Sanctuary City”. The truth is, Albuquerque has never been a “Sanctuary City”. In 2001, the Albuquerque City Council enacted a resolution that declared Albuquerque an “immigrant friendly” city. There is a very, very big difference between a “sanctuary city” and an “immigrant friendly” city.
In 2001, to his credit, the “immigrant friendly” resolution was sponsored by then Republican City Councilor Hess Yntema whose wife is a naturalized United States citizen from Columbia. Counselor Yntema was a two term District 6 City Councilor. District 6 is Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights District encompassing the University of New Mexico, Nob Hill and the International District.
Councilor Yntema was ahead of his time in sponsoring the immigrant friendly resolution and understood the perils and difficulties of many of his constituents who lived in his district which still has the highest population of immigrants in the city. The brutal truth is, many who are in the United States without legal immigration status, and who do not engage in criminal conduct, are often preyed upon by others and do not report to the police they have been victimized to avoid deportation.
A “sanctuary city” denies cooperation with federal immigration officials and does not use city law enforcement resources to identify or apprehend illegal immigrants and does not use city law enforcement resources to enforce immigration laws.
An “immigrant friendly” city is one that implements “welcoming city” policies and does not provide for city enforcement of federal immigration laws and addresses only city services including licensing and housing and the focus is to create inclusive, immigrant friendly and welcoming policies. Albuquerque’s “immigrant friendly” designation welcomes immigrants to the city and is largely symbolic.
In February, 2017, the City Council enacted a symbolic memorial that reaffirmed that Albuquerque’s “immigrant friendly” status, but it did not make Albuquerque a “sanctuary city”. Many who are in the United States without legal immigration status and who do not engage in criminal conduct are often preyed upon by others and do not report they have been victimized to avoid deportation. As a memorial, the legislation is not law, but an expression of support to extend city services to those who are afraid to ask for help out of fear of being reported to immigration authorities for deportation.
CITY’S HOMICIDE AND CLEARANCE RATES
In 2017, during the last full year Republican Mayor RJ Berry was in office, the city had 72 murders. In 2018, during Mayor Keller’s first full year in office, there were 69 homicides. In 2019, Keller’s second full year in office, the city had an all-time record number of 82 murders. The previous record high was 72 in 2017 and before that the high mark was in 1996 when the city had 70 homicides.
The FBI reports that the national homicide clearance rate is 61%. In Albuquerque, in 2020 so far it’s 57%. It is more likely than not the clearance rate will fall for 2020 as more murders occur. In 2019, APD’s clearance rate was 52.2% when the city reached 82 homicides in one year.
According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017, Mayor Berry’s last year in office, the clearance rate was 70%. In 2018, the first year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 56%. In 2019, the second year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade.
As of August 22, there have been 50 homicides reported in Albuquerque for 2020. With 50 murders thus far for 2020, the city is on track to match or exceed the all-time record of 80 homicides in one year or come very close to it by the end of the year.
KELLER APD EXPANSION PLAN
New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller successfully campaigned to become Mayor on the platform the reduce the city’s spiking crime rates, increase the size of APD and return to community-based policing without increasing taxes unless there was a public vote and implementing the DOJ consent decree reforms.
Within 5 months of taking office on December 1, 2017, Keller signed off on a $55 million a year tax increase, with 70% dedicated to public safety, without a public vote, APD has added 116 sworn police officers to the force. APD’s goal is to spend $88 million dollars starting last year in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers. APD now has 972 sworn police.
Last year’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. This year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget has funding for 1,040 sworn police. Notwithstanding all the money spent, APD is struggling to grow to the levels promised by Keller, crime is still spiking and APD is still under the DOJ consent decree.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Albuquerque has a violent crime rate that is 3.7 times the national average per capita, and the cities aggravated assaults are 4 times the national average per capita. The FBI reports the city has the dubious distinction of having a crime rate about 194% higher than the national average.
APD has 980 sworn police and the BCSO has 300 sworn police, for a total of 1,280 sworn police. During the last 10 years, the city’s crime rates have been some of the highest in the country, 8 years under Republican Mayor RJ Berry and for 2 years getting even worse under Democrat Mayor Tim Keller. Keller himself is saying APD alone needs at least 200 more cops. It not likely 35 more federal agents will bring down the crime rates if the agents are only here for 3 months.
It’s worth a try but it’s not likely that 35 sworn Federal law enforcement officers assigned to Albuquerque for 3 months are going to make that much of a difference in lowering the City’s high violent crime rates and it needs to last at least one full year if it’s going to make any real impact.
FIND ALTERNATIVE USE FOR FEDERAL GRANT MONEY
There is really no problem with Albuquerque accepting the $10 Million grant money in that the city is not a sanctuary city and never has been declared as such by the city council. Notwithstanding, there is very little guarantee, because of the volatility of the current political climate in Washington, that after the city accepts and spends the grant funding, the federal government will not demand a return of the funding arguing falsely that the city is a sanctuary city.
The biggest problem in accepting the $10 million federal grant is that it must be used to hire and employ 40 more APD police officers, and nothing else. The requirement to hire police reflects a poor understanding of city financing. Once a worker becomes a city employee and they are paid with a federal grant, they are classified as “temporary employees”. When the federal grant money is spent, the positions are eliminated and people are terminated unless they can be placed elsewhere and more funding found.
Employing police is in fact a reoccurring expenditure. Once the 40 police are hired, yearly expenditure and funding will continue long after the $10 million is spent. In other words, the city will be required to find another source of funding in order to continue to keep those officers employed. If the money is not there, the officers hired will likely have to be terminated.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE SHOULD ASSUME COST OF DOJ COMPLIANCE BUREAU AND FREE UP APD PERSONNEL
For the past 6 years, the City and APD have been struggling to implement the 276 reforms manadated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement. (CASA). It is the APD Compliance Bureau that is primarily responsible for enforcing the mandates under the CASA. The Compliance Bureaus consists of the Internal Affairs Professional Standards Division, Policy and Procedure Division, Accountability and Oversight Division, Internal Affairs Force Division and the Behavioral Health and Crisis Intervention Section and includes funding for training provided by the APD Academy for constitutional policing practices.
One alternative use of the $10 Million in grant funding would be that the DOJ assume the cost of personnel for the Court Approved Settlement agreement and allow the city to “civilianize” the compliance bureau. The 2020 -2021 City Council approved budget has a line item funding of $34,042,000 for APD Professional Accountability. This funding is essentially funding for the Compliance Bureau that is involved with the Department of Justice Consent Decree reforms and enforcement.
According to the August 1, 2019 “Staffing Snapshot”, the Compliance Bureau has total staffing of 61 sworn police consisting of 40 Detectives, 1 Deputy Chief, 3 Commanders, 1 Deputy Commander, 6 Lieutenants, 10 Sergeants. 40 detectives assigned to the compliance bureau is excessive and a waste of law enforcement personnel resources that should be used to combat crime. The Department of Justice and the New Mexico United States Attorney’s Office is demanding 276 reforms and they in turn should fund the compliance bureau to free up the 40 sworn police assigned to it.
RECRUITMENT DIFFICULT AT BEST
The federal grant also assumes it will be easy for the city to recruit and hire more police officers, which is simply not the case. After a full six years, the city is still struggling to increase its ranks with new recruits and thus far it is not even able to keep up with retirements. Because of the city’s difficulty with recruitment, the entire $10 Million in grant money could be used to fund sign on bonuses for new recruits and lateral hires.
A lucrative sign on bonus program could be as much as $30,000 to be applied strictly towards debt reduction, payment of education tuition debt, home mortgage down payment and full relocation moving costs. In exchange for the bonuses, the recruit or lateral hire would agree to a minimum employment contract for a period of years, such as 3 to 5 years, with repayment and stipulated judgment provisions for breach of contract for early termination by them.
Given the city’s difficulty in hiring police officers, the short-term funding of $10 Million dollar grant, the requirements of the grant relating to immigration, the Albuquerque City Council and the city would be better served by turning down the money for the use of hiring 40 police officers. This is not the say that the city does not need the funding, but that every effort should be made to change the terms of the grant and allow the city to use the money in other ways to find, charge and prosecute violent felons.
The city council needs to enact a resolution asking the federal government to use the grant funding for other projects or ask that the funding be used to lengthen the duration of Operation Legend . As alternative, the city council should request that the Department of Justice and the the United States Attorney’s Office assume the cost of the APD compliance bureau to continue with Operation Legend.