On Sunday June 14, in an exclusive interview with the Albuquerque Journal and the Washington Post and the then during a June 15 press conference, Mayor Tim Keller announced plans to create a new Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS). The new department as announced was to be responsible to send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for service in place of armed APD police officers or firefighter. It was to be an entirely new city department that was to be 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.
The ACS as originally presented was to have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts. They were to be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crisis calls for service to APD. The new department was 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, either police or firefighters, who typically have to deal with down-and-out and behavioral health calls.
KELLER GENERATES LOCAL AND NATIONAL NEWS COVERAGE
All three local news stations, Ch 4, 7 and 13 and the Albuquerque Journal covered Mayor Keller’s announcement of the new public safety department. In addition to local news coverage, Mayor Tim Keller’s June 14 announcement also generated substantial news headlines across the country, including the Washington Post, US News and World Report, The HILL, the New York Post, FOX News, MS Magazine. The Postscript to this blog article contains links to 15 national and local news stories.
On June 14, in addition to the Albuquerque Journal, Mayor Keller and CAO Nair went out of their way to make a Sunday phone call to the Washington Post so it could break the news story nationally and generate other news stories.
According to the Washington Post article:
“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’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 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. …
[Quoting Mayor Keller]
… There is a huge portion of our community that doesn’t necessarily want two officers showing up when they call about … behavioral and mental health. … 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.”
The link to the Washington Post article is here:
COST OF ALBUQUERQUE COMMUNITY SAFETY DEPARTMENT AS ORIGINANLY ANNOUNCED
Although Mayor Keller and CAO Sarita Nair did not disclose the estimated or projected cost of creating the new department, they did provide sufficient information on the personnel needs for the department during the June 15 press conference to make a projection. Keller’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said a rough estimate suggested that 192 positions would be needed for the new ACS Department with 32 people for each of the 6 area commands, staffed around the clock, to respond to tens of thousands of calls a year.
Based upon the average salaries paid to social workers and mental health professionals and the number of projected employees need for each area command, the projected employee costs can be calculated as follows:
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 Directors 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
A link to an original projected cost analysis is here:
PARRED DOWN BUDGET
On Thursday, September 3, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to release the long anticipated proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2020 and ends June 30, 2021. Mayor Keller’s total proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is $1.15 Billion which is slightly more than the 2019-2020 budget by about $50 Million.
The link to the Keller Administration Proposed budget is here:
In his September 3, transmission document of the 2021 proposed budget to the City Council, Mayor Keller emphasized as a top priority the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department and said:
“Albuquerque Community Safety Department: Policing alone will not make our community be safer or feel safer. Our Fiscal Year 2021 budget formally establishes the Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS), a third public safety department that will respond to the calls and needs of our City that are not best served by the police. We propose an initial investment of over $7.5 million in personnel, equipment and contractual services. In addition, ACS will leverage existing contracts with behavioral health and substance abuse service providers. ACS will begin its work through thoughtful and strategic responses in the areas of homeless encampments, responses to non-violent and non-criminal calls like abandoned vehicles, and better utilization of the Crisis Outreach and Support Teams. In addition, the Albuquerque Fire Rescue Department (AFR) has stepped up to provide administrative and back office services for the Albuquerque Community Safety Department. Through a budget-neutral reorganization and strengthening of administrative functions, AFR’s support will enable ACS to focus its funding to have a direct impact on the community.”
See page 5 of proposed budget document:
The 192 positions originally proposed for the new department was pared down by the Keller Administration in the 2020-2021 proposed budget. The new ACS Department was cut from the originally suggested 192 positions to 100 employees funded by the proposed budget. A line item review of the $7.5 million dollar proposed budget for the new ACS Department reveals that 60 positions have been identified for the new department that have been taken from other city departments. The positions were to be existing positions being transferred from other departments. The $7.5 million funding, like most of the staff, was to come from existing programs and departments, including Municipal Development, APD and Family and Community Services Departments.
There were 83 positions outlined in the proposed 2020-2021 budget. Those positions included 40 transit security officers, 13 security staffers from the Municipal Development Department, 9 parking enforcement workers, 6 crossing guard supervisors and one from the city’s syringe cleanup program. Seven civilian employees from the APDs Crisis Outreach and Support Teams who work nonviolent cases and are required to have a degree in a social work-related field, and people from the Family and Community Services Department, including a social worker-coordinator, were included in the budget.
NO MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
None of the 83 positions outlined in the Keller 2021 proposed budget requires a licensed mental health professional which is very problematic. The new ACS Department was represented as an alternative to first responders such a police or firefighters answering 911 calls, including those related to homelessness, behavioral health and addiction and the calls are supposed to be responded to by licensed mental health professionals.
Mayor Keller’s proposed budget created 4 new administrative positions. According to the Keller Administration, some of the positions were expected to have mental health licensure and credentials. The budget included $1 million for outreach and prevention positions and those positions would have licensure requirements.
According Mayoral Spokeswoman Jessica Campbell, the city is still sorting out many of the specific details for a department and had this to say:
“[City staff responding to 911 calls] may have backgrounds as social workers, peer to peer support, clinicians, counselors or similar fields. We do not have additional details [about the personnel] because this proposed budget is only for the next eight months, and provides time for a thoughtful, community-driven approach to building the department. ”
The ACS Coordinator Mariela Ruiz Angel added:
“The work has to start now. Building a first-of-its-kind department is going to take time, and we intend to use this fiscal year to build a strong foundation for the meaningful work this department will do.”
CITY COUNCIL GUTS KELLER’S “COMMUNITY SAFETY DEPARTMENT”
For the last few months, the Albuquerque City Council has been conducting budget hearings on the Keller 2020-2021 fiscal year budget that began on July 1, 2020. Under normal circumstances, the Mayor submits a proposed budget on April 1, the city council conducts hearings, makes adjustments and enacts a budget before July 1. Because of the pandemic and uncertainty of city revenues, a temporary budget was enacted to allow the city to operate. Only now in October is the City Council is conducting budget hearings with the intent to enact a final and approved budget by the end of the year.
It was on Thursday, September 3, that Keller released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The proposed budget contained a $7.5 million dollar proposed budget for the new Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS). Soon after release of the ACS budget, city councilors began to question the proposed staffing plan even going as far as saying it was top heavy with law enforcement employees and lack social workers and mental health professionals as was originally proposed.
One city councilor went so far as to question whether law enforcement type employees would be able to meet the city’s intended goals to help those in need of help such as those living on the streets, needing mental health care and needing assistance applying for Medicaid. Council President Pat Davis had this to say:
“The proposal as presented gives the impression we’re leading with enforcement officers as the primary people who will be engaging with people who need help. It’s one step down from the police, but it doesn’t take those support services out of the enforcement realm, and so it didn’t go far enough.”
On Thursday, October 15, the city council conducted its budget hearing on Mayor Tim Keller’s budget plan for his new “Albuquerque Community Safety” department. To the likely surprise of the Keller Administration, the Albuquerque City Council significantly gutted Mayor Keller’s budget plan for the new department. The council significantly reduced the Mayor’s security guard-heavy staffing proposal and is requiring detailed reporting before the department can use $1 million set aside for its operations.
The proposed Keller budget for the new department was slashed from $7.5 million to $2.5 million for fiscal year 2021. The City Council removed virtually all of the positions originally proposed by Keller. Cut from Keller’s proposed budget for the new department were 83 employees and a $7.5 million cost. The staffing cut include 53 security personnel, 9 parking enforcement employees and 6 people from the city’s crossing guard program.
The City Council’s budget gives the department a mere 13 positions. The positions include 7 civilian employees from the APD Crisis Outreach and Support Teams, and 3 Family and Community Services Department staffers which include one social worker and 2 people who respond to homeless encampments. Three management positions are included.
The council’s budget bill creates a committee to develop a “comprehensive plan” for the department. The committee is charged with the task of determining what employee training will be required and the supervisory hierarchy. The committee will report to the council quarterly on its progress and performance measures before the department will be allowed to spend $1 million appropriated for its programming.
The council’s budget goes so far as to even gutting Keller’s name for the new department “Albuquerque Community Safety” and dubbing it as a “new department”
According to a mayoral spokeswoman, Mayor Keller will review whatever budget arrives on his desk and said he has “no real concern” about the council’s proposal to remove the security and parking positions.
The city’s Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta had this to say:
“I think what we all agree on is that there is certainly a need for the new department and we all agree on that … Ultimately, the goals of the mayor and council seem to be the same. However, the mayor wants to do this in a rather aggressive manner.”
Keller for his part downplayed the Council’s action and said:
“We want to move fast and bold and innovative, and I think council wants to move at a more gradual manner. … And that’s okay, so we’ll basically work with them and meet with them. And we basically have the same end goal, so I’m not really concerned about it.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is only one word that can describe the manner Mayor Tim Keller’s new “Community Safety Department” was put together and that word is SLOPPY. Two other words to describe it would be “publicity stunt.” It is apparent that the new department as reflected in Keller’s proposed budget was simply thrown together in a haphazard manner to be included in his proposed budget.
The proposed Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS) is a department that is supposed to be 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 fact that none of the positions outlined in the 2021 proposed budget requires a licensed mental health professional goes against the spirit and intent of the department. It is a department that must be equipped to respond to 911 calls related to addiction problems and behavioral health issues, or it will fail and fail miserably and may even result in a social worker getting killed.
The new department as originally proposed by Keller was to have 192 employees, Keller cut it to 100 positions and then the City Council gutted to 13 positions. The projected budget went from $10.9 Million as originally projected when it was announced by Keller with great fanfare to a Keller proposed budget of $7.5 Million. The City Council has now gutted it to $2.5 Million.
A key component of the new department is to have trained and licensed mental health care professionals and that is still missing. The ACS department as presented in the proposed budget does not address behavioral health care and long-term counseling nor solutions. Without considerably more licensed health care professionals, the new department is relegated to be a “pickup, delivery or referral” 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.
A PUBLITY STUNT FOR A SERIOUS PROBLEM
Mayor Tim Keller and CAO Sarita Nair secured considerable news coverage nationally back in June when they called the Washington Post on a Sunday to first announce the new department. The below postscript contains just some of the news coverage. No one should be surprised at Tim Keller for wanting a national story given his penchant for news coverage, promoting the city and running for a second term. No one knows for sure how many other national news agencies Keller called on a Sunday to give interviews. Now that new department has been pared down to 13, it really is not a city department and has no certified mental health professionals, a cynic would say Keller’s new department announcement was nothing more than a typical Keller publicity stunt to please his staunches supporters as he seeks a second term.
Mayor Keller must be faulted for the sloppy manner in which his new department was first proposed and the way it is taking shape. The lesson Keller needs to learn is that just because you come up with an great idea that you know will generate press, you need to make sure all the ground work is in fact done and nothing in the planning and preparation can be left to chance. Keller’s press conference to announce his site selection for his new homeless shelter to force UNM to accept the project is another example of the problem Keller has with his attraction like a moth to news camera lighting.
People are onto it now that Keller thinks all he has to do is hold a press conference, flash his trademark smile, and all his desires and wishes will materialize. City government just does not work that way. Keller needs to put in the hard work, as does the CAO and department heads to get anything done. You can not build and entire new city department on a “lick and a promise”, which is exactly what Keller tried to do with his new Community Safety Department. People want results, not public relations.
At least the city council has caught onto Keller’s ploy and is now demanding a more thought out approach, no doubt to the chagrin of Mayor Keller, but then again Keller already got the news coverage he wanted with his publicity stunt to deal with a serious problem.
Following are links to news coverage:
“Amid calls to defund police, Albuquerque creates an alternative department”
NEW YORK POST
“New Mexico mayor proposes agency to use social workers instead of cops in some cases”
“Alb. to send unarmed social workers, not police officers, to some 911 calls”
US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT
“Albuquerque Proposes New Agency Amid Calls for Police Reform”
“Albuquerque will use social workers to respond to certain 911 calls instead of police”
“When Cities Replace Police with Social Workers”
“Albuquerque claims social workers will now respond to 911 calls — not cops”
“Albuquerque Democratic mayor announces plan to shift police resources to unarmed social wokers”
THE EPOCH TIMES
Albuquerque to send social workers instead of armed police to some 911 calls calls
When cities replace police with social workers
Links to local news coverage are here:
“Mayor proposes public safety department
LOCAL TV NEWS COVERAGE
KOB CH 4
KOAT TV CH 7
KRQE CH 13
Mayor Keller announces new Albuquerque Community Safety Department