Severely Paired Down “Community Safety Department” Launched; Ambassador Program Launched; Hope Springs Eternal Both Will Succeed
On April 27, Mayor Tim Keller announced the appointment 3 top managers for the newly created “Community Safety Department” (ACS). ACS will include trained social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, violence prevention and diversion program experts.
The department once fully implemented will give 9-1-1 dispatch an option when a community safety response is more appropriate than a paramedic, firefighter or armed police officer. The goal of the ACS is to bolster and expand investments in violence intervention, diversion programs and treatment initiatives.
MANAGEMENT TEAM ANNOUNCED
Following are the 3 appointments announced:
Mariela Ruiz-Angel, Director of Albuquerque Community Safety
Mariela Ruiz-Angel was born and raised in the border city of El Paso, Texas. Ruiz-Angel holds a Master of Business Administration in Human Resources and a Master of Social Work in Leadership and Administration. Prior to her appointment as Director of ACS, Ruiz-Angel was the City Coordinator for the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA). In her new role leading the third branch of public safety, Ruiz-Angel is working to ensure that the department follows through with its mission of advocating and promoting a citywide culture that values the voices of all residents. She brings to the City of Albuquerque an extensive background in education, business development, and corporate customer relations.
Jasmine Desiderio, Deputy Director of Policy and Administration
Jasmine Desiderio previously served as the Project Director of a Native American Youth Suicide Prevention program, where her roles included strategic action planning, policymaking, program development and evaluation, community outreach and engagement, data surveillance, grant administration and training facilitation. Desiderio holds a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling and Guidance from New Mexico Highlands University, and a Bachelor of Arts in both Psychology and Criminology from the University of New Mexico. She is currently in the Organization, Information and Learning Sciences Ph.D. program at the University of New Mexico. Desiderio has eight years of experience in coordinating multidisciplinary, interservice and interagency teams to strategically design and implement injury prevention services ranging from crisis intervention, suicide prevention and postvention programs in northwestern New Mexico.
D’Albert Hall, Deputy Director of Field Response
D’Albert Hall comes to Albuquerque by way of Las Vegas, Nevada. Hall holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an emphasis in social welfare and a Master of Arts in Sports Management. Prior to his appointment, Hall was employed as a Family Service Specialist and Child Development Specialist for Clark County Department of Family Services. There he addressed mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, physical abuse and child abuse/neglect concerns. Much of his time was spent working with families in their homes or at an emergency shelter. He provided treatment and behavioral intervention to abused, neglected and abandoned children, many of whom are behaviorally or emotionally impaired or medically fragile. Hall provided crisis intervention, family and child counseling and mediation principles and techniques.
Mariela Ruiz-Angel, Director of Albuquerque Community Safety, said in the fall of 2021, dispatchers will be able to send ACS first responders, along with police and firefighters to an emergency. She had this to say:
“This time a year ago, our administration realized that we needed to start thinking about something different than just a police officer or a firefighter when we went out to 911 calls. I think we’re going to be able to go to a lot of different types of calls. … Those would include abandoned vehicles, one of our top calls that we see, doesn’t always require a badge or a gun.
For years I think nationwide we’ve asked officers and even firefighters to be our protectors to be our social workers, to be our healthcare workers. I mean, we’ve asked so much of them and the reality is that we have actual experts that are equipped and trained on how to do this, and so we really do believe that this will allow for police to have, to have some of those calls that do again take time and that they’re just not expert in to then refocus their work on violent crime and let ACS really take on what they’re experts, on which is behavioral and mental health.
This is about making sure that we meet community where they are at, and that we’re not necessarily experts in what they right? In their lives, or we want to bring them to the table to let us know, are we doing this right, are you feeling like you’re being heard. “
The link to quoted source material is here:
SEVERLY PAIRED DOWN NEW DEPARTMENT
It was on Monday, June 15, 2020 Mayor Tim Keller announced plans to create a new Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS). It was proposed in part as a response to police shootings happening throughout the country, especially after the killing of African American George Floyd. Keller proclaimed it was the “first of its kind” department in the country. Keller received national news coverage on the concept, including the in the Washington Post. It turns out the only “first of its kind” aspect was a department. Using social workers to take call for service instead of cops has been going on for years in other major cities.
The new department as originally announced was to have 192 positions with 32 people for each of the 6 area commands, staffed around the clock, to respond to tens of thousands of calls for service a year. The estimated annual cost of the new department was $10,201,170. The ACS as Keller originally presented to the public 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 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.
On Thursday, September 3, Mayor Tim Keller released his proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new city department was pared down significantly to $7.5 million in personnel, equipment and contractual services. Not a single licensed mental health professional, social worker, councilor, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts were included.
Keller cut the new ACS Department from the originally suggested 192 positions to 100 employees with 60 positions taken from other city departments. The 100 employees 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.
On October 15, the proposed Keller budget for the new department was slashed to the bone 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.
During last year’s budget process, the Albuquerque City Council severely parred down the proposed new department. 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 it to 13 positions. The projected budget went from $10.9 Million as originally proposed by Keller then it was reduced to $7.5 Million, the City Council then slashed the budget further to $2.5 Million.
The 2022 proposed city budget provides for a Community Safety budget of $7.7 million with 61 total employees across a range of specialties in social work and counseling to provide behavioral health services.
On May 5, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) announced the creation of an new “Ambassador Program”. The Ambassador Program has assigned to it upwards of 18 police officers and city employs. The goal of the Ambassador Program is to bridge the gap between police and communities that may not completely trust officers.
APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said the APD officers assigned to the Ambassador Program will receive advanced training in community relations and will take concerns to APD Police Chief Harold Medina once a month. According to Atkins, the Ambassador Program will start with five groups: the Asian, Hispanic, Black and Native American communities, and the LGBTQ community.
She said the initiative is aimed at establishing “clear, consistent lines of communication” with those that have not had formal relationships with law enforcement in the past. Officers will also work on recruiting to diversify the department.
Chief Medina had this to say in a news release:
“We know there are diverse groups and viewpoints even within these communities,” “Our goal is to build relationships and address concerns about the inequalities in our community. This is a way for our officers to lend an ear and bring those concerns to the appropriate parties so we can help make necessary change. … [The Ambassador Program is aimed at] clear, consistent lines of communication. … We know there are diverse groups and viewpoints even within these communities. … Our goal is to build relationships and address concerns about the inequalities in our community. This is a way for our officers to lend an ear and bring those concerns to the appropriate parties so we can help make necessary change.”
Members of the Black New Mexico Movement, an advocacy group, said they were cautiously optimistic that the program will help mend relationships. The Black New Mexico Movement was organized and participated in many protests against racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd.
Torrance Green of the Black New Mexico Movement had this to say:
“I mean, everything so far sounds good, looks good. It’s happening. At this point, it’s the first step. … We’ll see what happens next, we’ll see what happens in the future. But, it’s good to see the see city, APD, working together– looking for a solution and at least trying.”
La’Quonte’ Barry, an organizer with the Black New Mexico Movement, said he likes the idea of the program and has been pleased with the response from APD. He said that after a car drove through a protest on Central across from UNM in September last year, Medina called him personally. Barry added:
“He was upset about that … About three days later, we met up and had a conversation, and that’s when everything started to go into more of what we want, and how we can be an assistance to what they already have.”
Barry had his own history with police at protests. He was charged with carrying a gun on school property in July after he and another activist with the Black New Mexico Movement took guns to Civic Plaza, not realizing they were banned. The case has been dismissed.
Barry said that he has told APD Chief Medina that protesters want to be able to gather and march without the heavy police presence that gives the impression that the group is violent or aggressive. Since his conversation with Chief Medina, Barry said the police presence at protests has been greatly diminished.
“That’s what our movement was about, the community approach … It wasn’t about being violent; it was about getting answers. And that’s where we are now: We’re getting answers; we’re speaking to people.”
Link to news source for quotes:
FAILED PROGRAMS TO BRING DOWN VIOLENT CRIME
In 2019, in response to the continuing increase in violent crime rates, Mayor Keller scrambled to implement 4 major crime fighting programs to reduce violent crime:
1. The Shield Unit
In February 2018 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) created the “Shield Unit”. The Shield Unit assists APD Police Officers to prepare cases for trial and prosecution by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office. The unit originally consisted of 3 para legals. It was announced that it is was expanded to 12 under the 2019-2020 city budget that took effect July 1, 2019.
2. Declaring Violent Crime “Public Health” issue
On April 8, 2019, Mayor Keller and APD announced efforts that will deal with “violent crime” in the context of it being a “public health issue” and dealing with crimes involving guns in an effort to bring down violent crime in Albuquerque. Mayor Keller and APD argue that gun violence is a “public health issue” because gun violence incidents have lasting adverse effects on children and others in the community that leads to further problems.
3. The “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP program)
On November 22, Mayor Tim Keller announced what he called a “new initiative” to target violent offenders called “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP). The VIP initiative was in response to the city’s recent murders resulting in the city tying the all-time record of homicides at 72 in one year. Mayor Keller proclaimed the VIP is a “partnership system” that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and social service and community provides to reduce violent crime. According to Keller vulnerable communities and law enforcement will be working together and building trust has proven results for public safety. Mayor Keller stated:
“… This is about trying to get these people not to shoot each other. …This is about understanding who they are and why they are engaged in violent crime. … And so, this actually in some ways, in that respect, this is the opposite of data. This is action. This is actually doing something with people. …”
4. The Metro 15 Operation program.
On Tuesday, November 26, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to announce a 4th program within 9 months to deal with the city’s violent crime and murder rates. At the time of the press conference, the city’s homicide count was at 72, matching the city’s record in 2017.
Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year. Keller dubbed the new program “Metro 15 Operation” and is part of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) program. According to Keller and then APD Chief Michael Geier the new program would target the top 15 most violent offenders in Albuquerque. It’s the city’s version of the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.
Links to news coverage are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The new Community Safety Department and the Ambassador Program are the 5TH and the 6th major initiatives Mayor Tim Keller has implemented in the last two years in an attempt to bring down the city’s high violent crime rates as he promised to do in 2017 when he ran for Mayor. Based on the city’s high violent crime and murder rates, it appears Keller’s previous programs have been a failure.
The 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. 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.
A key component of the new department is to have trained and licensed mental health care professionals. The ACS department as presented in the original proposed budget did 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.
No doubt in Mayor Keller’s heart hope springs eternal that the new Community Safety Department and the Ambassador Program will both succeed to some extent before the November 2 municipal election where Keller is seeking a second 4-year term. The cold reality is that time is running out on Keller and 5 month before an election is not enough time to have any significant reduction in violent crime.
The link to a related blog article is here:
Publicity Stunt Keller’s “Community Safety Department” Gutted By City Council; New Department Goes From 192 Positions To 13 Positions; $10.9 Million Projected Budget Goes To $7.5 Million, Cut To $2.5 Million; Still No Mental Health Officials