On September 7, the new Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACSD) dispatched 3 two person teams of civilians trained as behavioral health responders to commence handling certain 911 calls in order to reduce the number of calls for service handled by Albuquerque police.
The links to full reports are here:
The ACSD was proposed in 2020 by the Keller Administration as an option to replace APD sworn police with civilian social workers and trained mental health experts to respond to 911 calls involving the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addictions. The ultimate goal is to reduce the staggering number of 911 emergency calls to those who may be having psychotic episodes and to utilized de-escalation tactics and avoid use of force and deadly force.
On October 5, it was reported by city spokesman Joshua Reeves that the September 7 dispatch of 3 two person teams of civilians was considered a “soft launch’ to test the process that will ultimately be implemented. According to Reeves, as of October 5, there are 5 behavioral health responders that are responding to upwards of 8 calls a day and that 150 have been taken in the first month of operation. Another 22 responders, including supervisors and outreach team members, are in the hiring and training process. The final goal, he said, is to have 54 personnel responding to calls. Reeves also said the city hired 4 mobile crisis team clinicians and one supervisor as ACS employees and they have been assisting officers on calls since March.
HOW IT WILL WORK
When someone calls 911, dispatch operators will ask the caller a number of questions. If the incident involves homelessness, inebriation, addiction or mental health, then a two-person team from ACS will handle the call. The 911 emergency dispatch system will route calls to the 3 two person teams of civilians trained as behavioral health responders when there are disturbances, issues involving mental health or homelessness, suicides, welfare checks and other lower-level calls.
The ACS responders will have backgrounds as social workers, clinicians, counselors or similar fields. Training occurred in early August. The training for responders included anti-racism, implicit bias, strength based interventions and crisis interventions de-escalation techniques. ACS is looking to have 60 people on staff with applications are being sought for the positions. Salary ranges are from $50,000 t0 $75,000 a year.
Once the department is fully staffed and up and running, it is projected to respond to upwards of 3,000 emergency nonmedical, nonviolent calls a month. In fiscal year 2020, APD received 524,286 calls for service or upwards of 40,000 calls for service a month. The goal is to free up Albuquerque police officers to answer calls for more serious offenses quicker and permit cops to focus on core police work and community policing reform efforts. The program will operate 24/7 once fully staffed. The goal is to fully staff the department by the end of the year or earlier with upwards of 100 more trained behavioral health responders.
Mariela Ruiz-Angel, the new department director appointed in April, had this to say:
“[This is a] third branch to public safety. When a police or firefighter is not an appropriate response, we’ll be able to send someone from ACS who has a background behavioral health, social work and counseling. … 911 gets so many calls, and we just don’t have enough cops. … [The ACSD] can take the low priority calls that would take police three to four hours to get to. … … Our hope is that we can create the preventative pieces that we can hopefully divert people from going into jail, and instead going into the system that they probably need to which is mental health. … This is about relieving the public safety system so that officers can really concentrate on fighting crime”
MANAGEMENT TEAM ANNOUNCED
It was 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.
Following are the 3 appointments announced:
Mariela Ruiz-Angel, Director of Albuquerque Community Safety. Prior to her appointment as Director of ACS, Ruiz-Angel was the City Coordinator for the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA)
Jasmine Desiderio, Deputy Director of Policy and Administration. Mr. 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.
D’Albert Hall, Deputy Director of Field Response. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Hall was employed as a Family Service Specialist and Child Development Specialist for Clark County Department of Family Services.
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.
APD ADDS PRIORITY CALL CLASSIFICATIONS
For decades APD had a 3 priority 911 dispatch system. On March 7, 2019, APD announced a major change in the way it was dispatching police officers to 911 calls and expanded priority the list from 3 to 5 categories. Call priorities on the scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the highest or most important type of call. A major goal of the 5-priority call system is to determine what calls do and do not require a police officer. The goal was to reduce the number of 911emergency calls for service responded to by APD sworn police.
Following are the priority call definitions:
PRIORITY 1: Any immediate life-threatening situation with a great possibility of death or life-threatening injury or any confrontation between people which could threaten the life or safety of any person where weapons are involved. Priority 1 calls include: Shootings, stabbings, Sexual Assaults, Assaults with weapons (Aggravated Assaults), Burglary in Progress)
PRIORITY 2: Any crime in progress which may result in a threat of injury to a person, major loss of property or immediate apprehension of a subject. This also involves accidents with injuries. Priority 2 Calls include any armed robbery, vehicle accidents with injuries, none injury accidents, child left in vehicle.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Priority 1 and 2 calls are the most urgent calls where police units use lights and sirens and travel at high speed.
PRIORITY 3: Minor incidents in progress or just occurred with no threat of personal injury, major loss of life or property. Priority 3 calls are shop lifting, noise complaints, large loud party complaints, and animals left in cars.
PRIORITY 4: Minor incidents with no threat of personal injury, loss of life or property. Delayed reports when the caller is at a public location. Priority 4 calls are nuisance incidents and burglary alarms.
PRIORITY 5: A crime has already occurred, no suspect at or near the scene, and no threat of personal injury, loss of life or property. Delayed responses are where the caller is at home or at their work place for an extended period of time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With Priority 3, 4 and 5 calls, callers are encouraged to file on line reports with APD not always dispatched where it is determined none are needed.
From review of the 5 types of priority calls, it is more likely than not the types of calls the new civilian teams will likely fall into are the category of Priority 3, 4, 5.
Review of the number of calls for service over the last 7 years reveals that the new teams will likely have a very daunting task, even if they are dispatched to a small fraction or the calls.
For the Fiscal Years of F/Y 14 to F/Y 20 the total number of 911 calls for service were:
FY/14 # of Calls for service: 518,553
FY/15 # of Calls for service: 518,751
FY/16 # of Calls for service: 547,854
FY/17 # of Calls for service: 564,610
FY/18 # of Calls for service: 580,303
FY/19 # of Calls for service: 543,574
FY/20 # of Calls for service: 524,286
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The new Community Safety Department is the 5TH 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.
Without more licensed health care professionals, the new department runs the risk of being 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 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.
The Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS) is a department that is a proposed 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.
Every effort needs to be made to ensure that the ACS teams are dispatch to only Priority 3, 4, 5 calls in order to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to dealing with armed and dangerous felons.
The link to a related blog article is here: