On Tuesday, June 16, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to discuss “holistic” traffic safety and to announce his intent to renew the use of automated traffic camera’s and “speed vans” to issue speeding citations. During the June 16 press conference, Mayor Tim Keller announced he wants to resurrect the use of “speeding vans” to issue speeding citations to free up APD officers and set up them up in targeted areas of the city plagued by speeders.
Keller had this to say:
“[Speeding] is such a big problem. You cannot solve it by just deploying officers in a couple of weeks in different areas. We don’t have the officers to do that. The goal is to get people to stop speeding. So, if you just do that because there is a sign out, that’s fine. … I believe we don’t have a lot of choices left, in terms of tactical operations. … Having APD stand out here with speed guns for a week is not going to make a difference. … We are thinking about phasing [camera speeding citations] in so people know about them. You might get a warning first. “
Joseph Viers, the Albuquerque police commander for traffic and motor units, had this to say:
“One-third of all fatal crashes in Albuquerque involve excessive speed. … Automated [camera] enforcement can work to cut down on dangerous speeding, and officers do not have to be involved in that process directly. … In 2019, there were 97 fatalities, and that’s the highest it’s been over the past decade. … Pedestrian deaths have increased four times since 2010. … [Traffic stops] have the highest incidence for sometimes tragic confrontations between offices and civilians.”
According to Commander Viers, automated camera citation will free up police and allow APD to focus on other police work, particularly violent crime.
Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz, managing city attorney for policy, said it is important the city is “making sure that we aren’t criminalizing our community, making sure that this is solely a civil citation process … and offering alternative ways of paying for these citations so that it doesn’t result in a bench warrant.”
Under the proposed program, citations would be reviewed before being mailed, and motorists who receive citations would have access to an appeal process. People who cannot afford fines would be offered alternatives, such as community service. In the previous system, tickets went to the registered vehicle owner who may not have been the driver of the vehicle.
Unlike the widely disliked red light camera program abolished in 2012, Keller’s proposed new system would be mobile and target only speeding vehicles, although not low-level speeders going a few miles over the limit. Violators would receive citations that are civil, rather than criminal, and they would be handled administratively, “basically like parking tickets” Keller said.
The last time the city used speeding vans was in 2006 where vans were used in school zones and the use grew to interstates and neighborhoods. Soon the speeding van program evolved into the “red light” camera program where red-light cameras were erected at the most heavily traffic intersections in the city.
In 2010, the New Mexico state legislature banned the use of speed vans on state and federal roadways. The “red light camera” program became so controversial that it was forced on the city ballot. In October, 2012, 53% of voters voted to end the program, which included red light cameras and speed vans. The Albuquerque City Council repealed the red light camera ordinance. In 2011, Albuquerque discontinued its association with Redflex and its camera system.
Mayor Keller said during the press conference the automated camera program will occur only if the Albuquerque City Council adopts an ordinance to create the system and provide for traffic penalties under the city’s civil code.
THE PROBLEM IS NOT JUST SPEEDING
It’s common driving the streets of Albuquerque to see others speeding, be cut off by another driver, see someone run a red light, watch drivers barrel through school zones, use corner businesses to drive into and out as a shortcut to avoid a red light, vehicles with cracked windshields or broken taillights, people using their cell phones while driving ignoring traffic in front or on the side of them. You can often see people driving without their seat belts on, drivers swerving in and out of lanes at high speeds and engaging in careless driving, driver’s looking in their rearview mirror checking out their teeth, hair or makeup.
Then there are drivers yelling at each other in road rage or drivers being totally oblivious to pedestrians and people on bikes or motorcycles, drivers that are obviously in a haze or driving under the influence based on their weaving in and out of traffic. You can also see drivers that have been in a car accident patiently waiting lengthy periods of time for a police officer to show up to take an accident report.
What you do NOT see are Albuquerque Police Officers (APD) making traffic stops, issuing traffic citations or warnings. It’s the sure presence of police on the road that changes people’s driving habits. The only time you hear or see an APD mark unit on the streets of Albuquerque is when they are traveling far in excess of the speed limit with their red lights on and sirens blazing no doubt to get to the next homicide or violent crime scene.
The Governors Highway Safety Association report has ranked New Mexico as having the highest pedestrian fatalities per capita for five years in a row.
METRO TRAFFIC COURT ARRAIGNMENT PROGRAM
Traffic citations are criminal misdemeanor citations and can only be given when a police officers actually witnesses the offense, such as speeding or running a red light. Traffic cases are “officer prosecuted”, meaning sworn police officers on their own have to present the case to the court.
In 2006, the Metropolitan Traffic Court Arraignment Program was created by an agreement between the City Attorney, the Bernalillo County District Attorney and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Despite the historical and designated role of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office as the chief law enforcement office for the prosecution of criminal cases, misdemeanor or felony cases, the City Attorney’s office was tasked with the program. Then Deputy City Attorney Pete Dinelli was given the assignment to create the program with the hiring of Assistant City Attorneys and paralegals and to manage and oversee the attorneys and para legals.
Two Assistant City attorneys and 4 paralegals were hired because of the volume of traffic cases. Assistant City Attorneys are cross deputized or appointed “special prosecutors” by the Bernalillo County District Attorney with the sole authority to negotiate plea agreements in traffic cases at the time of arraignments, thereby negating the need for sworn APD personnel to appear at arraignments.
The rationale for the city attorney’s office to be involved with traffic arraignments is twofold:
1. To provide a major accommodation to the Metropolitan Court
2. To eliminate the need of sworn APD officers to go to court for arraignments on traffic offenses.
The traffic court arraignment program reduces police overtime where APD sworn personnel are entitled to a minimum of 2 hours of overtime charged at time and a half under the union contract.
HOW IT WORKS
When a person is stopped and issued traffic citation, the citing sworn officer determines if the driver will contest the citations. If the driver wants to contest the citations issued, an arraignment date and time is immediately scheduled by the citing officer. The Metropolitan Traffic arraignment program streamlines the process, saves time and money and negates the appearance of police officers at arraignments.
There are upwards of 170 different traffic violation citations that can be issued by sworn law enforcement. The most common traffic citations include speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, failing to stop, improper lane change, no registration, no insurance, suspended driver’s license, failing to yield, and open container. On any given day, between 250 and as many as 500 cases can be negotiated, resolved and approved by the Metro Court. The average Metropolitan Traffic Court arraignment case results in court fees and fines anywhere from $65 to upwards of $250.
APD BUDGET INCREASE
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) budget is the largest budget department in the city with the city council approving a $212 million budget commencing July 1. The approved budget is an increase of 3% from last budget year with nearly $32 million coming from the city’s federal coronavirus relief money.
The approved APD budget funds 1,706 full time positions that includes civilian staff and funding for 1,100 sworn police. Currently, APD has 980 sworn police.
The APD approved budget includes:
$2.5 million to support the hiring of 100 new officers, which factors in existing vacancies and savings from retirements and other separations.
$627,000 to acquire electronic control weapons that have an audit trail to monitor usage and compliance with use of force policies.
$594,000 to purchase on-body cameras.
APD’s approved 2022 fiscal year budget that begins on July 1 can be found at page 147 of the City’s Budget with the link here:
KELLER’S APD STATISTCLY UNERPEFORMS IN TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT BY THE THOUSANDS
Review of the hard numbers in Keller’s budget reveal that APD during the last 4 years reflects that enforcing traffic laws has never been a major priority for APD under Keller’s appointed APD Chief’s Michael Geier and now Chief Harold Medina.
APD’S DRAMTIC DECLINE ISSUING TRAFFIC CITATIONS UNDER MAYOR KELLER
Review of the hard numbers in Keller’s budgets while he has been Mayor reveals just how bad things have deteriorated with APD performing a basic law enforcement function of patrolling the streets and issuing traffic citations.
In 2009, there were 86,175 traffic arraignment cases in Metro Court. In 2015 traffic cases dropped to 31,163, or over 55,000 fewer traffic citations. Between 90% and 95% of the traffic cases are APD cases with the remainder being BCSO and State Police cases, which is one reason city personnel were used.
In 2009 the City Attorney’s traffic court arraignment program consisted 2 full time Assistant City Attorneys and 4 full time para legals. As of June 18, 2021, the City Attorney’s traffic court arraignment program consists of just 1 Assistant City Attorney, 1 full time paralegal and 2 half time paralegals. The dramatic decline in city attorney personnel is directly attributed to the decline by the thousands of traffic citations.
The real problem is that APD sworn police are seriously underperforming by choice and traffic enforcement is not a priority for APD. City Attorney statistics reveal a dramatic decrease by the thousand in the number traffic citations being issued by APD. When you review the City’s budget for each of the past 8 years, the statics reveal that thousand more traffic citations were issued with a smaller number of APD sworn police on the force during Mayor Berry’s second term compared to Mayor Keller’s years in office. A dramatic drop in the thousands of traffic citation began to occur in Keller’s first year in office, even when there were more sworn APD officers in field services patrolling the streets.
Following are the statistics for APD total sworn police officers with the number cases disposed of through the city’s traffic arraignment program:
MAYOR RICHARD BERRY YEARS
2014 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2014- June 30, 2015 )
Actual # officers participating in annual bid: 429 (Total staffing with civilians and sworn 1,525) (APD Budget, pages 211 and 215)
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 39,169 (Legal Budget, p 185)
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by pleas: 92% (Legal Budget, p 185)
The link to the 2014 approved fiscal budget is here:
2015 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2014- June 30, 2015 )
Actual # officers participating in annual bid: 411 (Total staffing with civilian and Sworn: 1,455 (APD Budget, pages 211 and 213)
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 49,200
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by pleas: 70%
The link to the 2015 approved fiscal budget is here:
2016 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2015- June 30, 2016 )
Actual # Sworn Police for the year: 879 (Patrol Field Services, 420) page 183
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 39,541 (Legal budget )page 181
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by pleas: 87%
The link to the 2016 approved fiscal budget is here:
2017 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2016- June 30, 2017 )
Actual # Sworn Police for the year: 833 (APD budget, Page 207 )
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 34,077 (Legal Department Budget, page 183 )
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by pleas: 59% (Legal Department Budget, page 183)
The link to the 2017 approved fiscal budget is here:
2018 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1,2017 – June 30, 2018)
Actual # of sworn officers for the year: 861 (APD budget, Page 204, )
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 36,161 (Legal Department Budget, Page 178,)
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by pleas: 64% (Legal Department Budget, Page 178,)
The link to the 2018 approved fiscal budget is here:
MAYOR TIM KELLER YEARS
2019 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019)
Actual # of sworn officers for the year: 867 (APD budget, Page 211)
Actual # of traffic cases going to Arraignment: 26,106 (Legal Department Budget, Page 187)
Actual % of cases resolved by plea: 75% (Legal Department Budget, Page 187)
The link to the 2019 approved fiscal budget is here:
2020 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020)
Actual # of sworn officers: 964 (APD budget, Page 213)
August 1, 2019 APD “Staffing Snapshot”: 972 sworn officers with 600 officers in the field patrolling 6 area commands
Actual # of Traffic Cases going to Arraignment: 26,544 (Legal Department Budget, Page 186)
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by plea: 70% (Legal Department Budget, Page 186)
The link to the 2020 approved fiscal budget is here:
2021 APPROVED FISCAL YEAR BUDGET ( July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021)
Actual # of sworn officers reported for full year: 924 ( APD budget page 226)
During the February 8, 2021, City Council Public Safety Committee, then Interim Chief Harold Medina reported that APD has 957 sworn police and 371 sworn police were in Field Services responding to calls for service or 39% of the entire sworn force.
Actual # of traffic cases going to arraignment: 19,650 (Legal Department Budget, page 200)
Actual % of traffic cases resolved by plea: 70% (Legal Department Budget, page 200)
The link to the 2021 approved fiscal budget is here:
2022 FISCAL YEAR BUDGET (July 1, 2021 June 30, 2022)
Actual # of sworn officers reported for full year: 1,004 ( APD budget page 149)
Actual # of traffic cases going to arraignment: 4,044 mid year with 47% pleas, 8,088 projected for the year. (Legal Department Budget, page 128)
Actual % of cases resolved by plea: 47% pleas mid year, 50% pleas projected for year. (Legal Department Budget, page 128)
The link to the 2022 fiscal year budget is here:
Traffic citation cases in Metro Court dropped from 36,161 in Berry’s last fiscal year he was in office to 26,106 in Keller’s first fiscal year in office with the numbers dropping each year thereafter during the Keller years to a paltry 4,044 mid year in 2022 fiscal year.
From the foregoing, a nutshell comparison of the second term of Mayor Berry Compared to the Mayor Keller’s term is as follows:
MAYOR BERRY YEARS OF TRAFFIC ARRAIGNMENT CASES AND APD PERSONNEL:
Traffic Arraignment Cases Under Berry:
2014: 39,169, 2015: 49,200, 2016: 39,541, 2017: 34,077, 2018: 36,161
APD Sworn Field Services And Total Sworn Under Berry:
2014: 429 field, 2015: 411 field, 2016: 420 field, 2017: 833 (total sworn) 2018: 861 (Total Sworn)
MAYOR KELLER YEARS OF TRAFFIC ARRAIGNMENT CASES AND APD PERSONNEL
Traffic Arraignment Cases under Keller:
2019: 26,106 , 2000: 26,544; 2021: 19,650, 2022: 4,044 mid year with 47% pleas, 8,088 projected for year with 50% pleas
APD Personnel Under Keller:
2019: 867 total sworn , 2020: 972 total sworn, 2021: 957 sworn police, 2022: 1,100 total sworn budgeted.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
When Mayor Keller insists that “You cannot solve [speeding] by just deploying officers in a couple of weeks in different areas. We don’t have the officers to do that”, he is misleading the public and wrong on two levels. It’s not the need for more police officers, but making traffic enforcement a priority by APD.
One of the very basic functions of any municipal police department is traffic law enforcement. APD is the largest funded department with a $212 million budget with 1,678 full time positions that includes 578 civilian staff and funding for 1,100 sworn police. Yet Keller whines about not having enough officers as opposed to ordering the Department to make traffic law enforcement a priority.
What is pathetic is that Keller actually thinks that a “holistic” approach will reduce speeding. Reducing speeding has everything to do with visibility and APD patrolling the streets of the city and just enforcing traffic laws that result in consequences. When a person is issued a traffic citation by a cop for failure to wear a seat belt and the person is required to plead guilty or go before a judge to see if they can get out of the fine, it changes conduct.
The City and APD were under a Court Approved Settlement Agreement the last 3 years of Mayor Berry’s second term and the full term of Mayor Tim Keller. Complaints by Mayor Keller that APD does not have enough sworn police to do traffic enforcement rings very hollow. APD now has more police officers under Mayor Keller than Mayor Berry, yet APD issued thousands of more traffic citations during Berry’s second term than Keller’s term.
According to the city budgets from the last 8 years, traffic court cases handled by the City Attorney dropped from 36,161 in Berry’s last fiscal year he was in office to 26,106 in Keller’s first fiscal year in office with the numbers dropping each year thereafter to a paltry 4,044 mid year in 2022 fiscal year.
MISUNDERSTANDING OF BASIC LAW ENFORCEMENT
Mayor Tim Keller, and the Albuquerque City Council for that matter, have a serious misunderstanding to the point of being totally ignorant to think that issuing automated camera speeding citations resulting in civil fines is going to solve the city’s speeding problem. A civil administrative proceeding presided over by city administrative hearing officers will occur to review the speeding citations and give the person an opportunity to defend. The problem is, civil citations will likely be ignored. Without criminal contempt powers that a court of law has to issue orders to arrest for failure to appear, a city administrative hearing officer can do absolutely nothing, but smile and grin in the hopes a person will pay the fine.
As was the case with the “red flex” cameras and its administrative hearings, it will not solve the speeding problem and only result in another severe public relations backlash and resentment of “big brother” is watching you as you drive the streets of Albuquerque.
POWER OF THE COURTS REASON THAT CRIMINAL TRAFFIC CITATIONS REDUCE SPEEDING
When a police officer issues a misdemeanor criminal citation for speeding or other traffic offenses, the crime must occur in the presence of the officer where the officer has witnessed the crime. Automated red light camera citations are civil because the crime is a recorded image.
There is a major reason that traffic citations are criminal misdemeanor charges with fines and not civil. It’s because traffic citations issued by police officers and backed up with the authority of the courts, it has a major impact on the general public to deter conduct and reduce speeding and other traffic violations.
In addition to the criminal aspect, there is also a civil aspect to the misdemeanor charges. Automatic driver’s license revocation can occur with traffic citations. The more citations are issued, the more impact it has to threaten the suspension of a person’s driver’s license because of points assessed. Auto insurance companies also monitor their client’s traffic record and will increase insurance rates or even cancel coverage.
Police presence and visibility on the streets is the most effective way to change people’s driving habits, especially with speeding. Mayor Keller would be wise, especially during an election year, to abandoned the automatic camera citations idea and stick to the use of street patrols with reliance on the Metro Court arraignment program.
Mayor Keller needs to order APD to make traffic enforcement a priority and stop it with the press conferences where he announces “holistic” programs where he whines about not having enough sworn police officers. Keller needs to stop the whining at least until November 2.