On June 27, the New Mexico Sun published the following guest column provided by www.PeteDinelli.com:
HEADLINE: Godfather-like shake down by Keller for police protection
By Pete Dinelli
Jun 27, 2022
“On June 21, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina held a news conference to announce a new law enforcement initiative they dubbed “Targeted Enforcement Action Monitoring” (TEAM). The new program is tailored specifically for the Central Downtown Business area. Extra police officers will be assigned to focus on traffic enforcement, DWIs, modified car exhaust citations, illegal firearms and to patrol parking lots where after parties and violence break out after the numerous bars close. The city is planning to open a new substation on Central between Third and Fourth in the Rosenwald Building.
What is astonishing is that Mayor Keller and Chief Medina are asking Downtown businesses to contribute to a fund to pay for the TEAM police protection. They have actually said to downtown businesses that if they are concerned about crime and public safety issues in downtown and they want police protection, they need to pay extra for it.
Due to the officer shortage in Albuquerque, officers will participate on a volunteer basis through the chief’s overtime program. Chief’s overtime consists of private businesses, organizations or event organizers paying for off duty officers to provide security. According to Medina, the TEAM program will be of no cost to the taxpayer. Instead, it will be funded by the city, downtown business owners, and private donations.
Chief Medina when asked why private businesses should pay for police presence said this:
“This is a way for people to fund Downtown, specifically, and not us devoting all our resources and money to just one specific part of town. … Because the moment I devote our resources and funding to Downtown, I guarantee there’s going to be another part of town asking ‘where’s my cut?’”
The TEAM program requiring private funding is as about as messed up as any Mayor can get with a police department. The biggest problem with Chief’s Overtime is that it is essentially a program where city personnel resources, sworn police, are being used to make a profit for the city. Any city program that uses public funded resources to make a profit is dangerous and is a ripe for corruption and severe public criticism and scrutiny.
Over the last 4 years of city budgets under Keller, enough money was budgeted to pay for 1,100 officers each year. During the April 28 budget hearing APD Chief Harold Medina acknowledged for the very first time that APD employing 1,100 sworn police is likely unrealistic. Medina told the city council that APD estimates that it will finish the fiscal year 2023 that ends on June 30, 2023 with just 982 officers.
Budgeted sworn officer positions carry a price tag of upwards $105,000 apiece when you include base salaries and add benefits such as the city’s portion of retirement pay. That means that by next year’s end there are only 982 officers as Medina told the city council, and APD is budgeted for 1,100 sworn positions, 118 salaries will go unspent. That translates into $12,390,000 in unspent salaries calculated as follows: 118 vacant positions at $105,000 a piece equals $12,390,000 salaries will accrue as unspent.
Keller and Medina proclaimed they are working in a resource-constrained environment. The only constraint that really exists is in the inability of Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina to manage APD resources. The fact that APD has a shortage of police officers is Keller’s and Medina’s fault, not the taxpayer’s fault, and is a result of their failure, some would say, incompetence, to staff APD at the levels that have been fully funded.
APD is awash with unused funding that is dedicated to funding sworn police positions never filled. Police protection is the most important city essential service that the city provides its citizens and which they pay for with taxes. Yet Keller and Medina seek private funding, telling Downtown business owners they need to take “control of their own future” by paying for police protection.
Mayor Keller and Chief Medina telling downtown business that if they want police protection, they must pay extra for it is akin to a godfather like “shake down.” In making the request for donations to fund police, both essentially concede that they are failures in managing the personnel resources of the largest budgeted department in the city despite a 14.7% increase in APD’s annual budget which is $255.4 million.
Instead of kissing Keller’s ring and paying more for police protection, Downtown business owners should demand Keller and Medina deliver on the police protection they are already paying for.”
Pete Dinelli is a native of Albuquerque. He is a licensed New Mexico attorney with 27 years of municipal and state government service including as an assistant attorney general, assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes, city of Albuquerque deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer, Albuquerque city councilor, and several years in private practice. Dinelli publishes a blog covering politics in New Mexico: www.PeteDinelli.com.
The link to the New Mexico Sun guest column is here:
ALBUQUERQE JOURNAL EDITORIAL
On June 28, the Albuquerque Journal published the following editorial repeating many of the argument made in the Dinelli blog article above:
Editorial: ABQ’s Downtown police OT scheme like TV mob plot
BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD
PUBLISHED: TUESDAY, JUNE 28TH, 2022 AT 12:02AM
UPDATED: TUESDAY, JUNE 28TH, 2022 AT 10:40AM
It sounds a lot like a deal they can’t refuse: Pay police a little extra and they’ll protect your Downtown business. If it sounds somewhat shady, that’s because it’s the stuff of gangster movies and TV shows.
Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Department leaders announced the scheme last week that involves businesses paying “chief’s overtime” to have officers stationed Downtown at night. Called “Targeted Enforcement Action Monitoring” it is set to begin July 4.
“Now I want to mention not all of the businesses are supporting this,” the mayor said during a Downtown news conference last week. “We want them to; we need them to.”
When questioned why private businesses should pay for extra police presence instead of the city, Police Chief Harold Medina said the city has to make choices: “This is a way for people to fund Downtown, specifically, and not us devoting all our resources and money to just one specific part of town.”
Stuart Dunlap, president and CEO of The Man’s Hat Shop, told KOAT-TV he already pays taxes for police protection.
“Businesses pay property taxes,” Dunlap said. “We pay business tax when you buy a business license. I don’t think that that’s the correct answer. Additional monies com(ing) from business owners Downtown is completely out of line.”
“For us to have to pay the government to protect us, I just don’t think it’s right,” added Jessica Zubia of Katrina’s Ice Cream Shop.
Never mind the city is experiencing a revenue boom. The city’s 2022-23 budget of $1.4 billion is about $200 million more than the current budget.
Or the city’s $857 million operating budget, which is supposed to cover most basic city services, will increase by about 20%. The bulging budget includes funding for a new police union contract that recently boosted police pay by 8% and will bump it another 5% in July.
Or APD’s $255.4 million budget funds 1,100 sworn police officers when it has just 888. Why not use that unspent money if the brass think more overtime is a good idea?
Never mind the city budget doubles spending on Albuquerque Community Safety and funds 74 new positions for the fledgling unit to take calls related to public inebriation and homelessness.
Or the COVID-19 pandemic has caused about 40% of small businesses to close, taking a heavy toll on Albuquerque’s Downtown. And patrons of Downtown businesses will be the ultimate losers when the cost of a hot dog hits $10 and a beer goes for $15.
At its core, it is just wrong to shake down businesses for police protection.
Keller says Downtown businesses must take control of their own future. That attitude ignores government’s, in this case the city’s, basic responsibility to maintain law and order and will have a chilling effect on new businesses locating Downtown.
Keller also says the Downtown officers — and they are not extra officers, as they are coming from the same limited pool of trained, sworn law enforcement professionals — will be able to focus on things like illegal firearms and fights in parking lots when the bars close. But that type of “chief’s overtime” — for which the city in December 2020 received between $57 and $72 an hour for each shift — is a lot more high stress than simply managing traffic after a large church service or athletics event. It adds the risk of burning our officers out even faster.
Focusing “chief’s overtime” on officers working extra hours Downtown also means they aren’t available for OT in other neighborhoods in an endless game of Whac-A-Mole. What happens if, say, the Winrock/ABQ Uptown area offers to pay more? Only those who pay get police presence?
The bottom line is APD needs to recruit and hire more officers so it can perform the basic functions it’s more than adequately funded to do.
Downtown has to be saved, but Keller and Medina need to come up with something better than pulling a scheme from a mob script and sticking businesses with the bill.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
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