On July 6 Mayor Tim Keller announced that his administration is “revisiting” its policies on how it addresses homeless encampments that are increasing in number throughout the city. Keller wants to initiate major changes by the end of July on how to deal legally with homeless encampments and in particular Coronado Park.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
Keller’s announcement was made almost a month after a fourth murder in the last two years occurred at Coronado Park, located at third and Interstate 40. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day. Residents and businesses located near the park have complained to the city repeatedly about the city’s unwritten policy to allow the park to be used as an encampment and its use as a drop off by law enforcement for those who are transported from the westside jail.
At any given time, Coronado Park has 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. The city park has an extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder. City officials have said it is costing the city $27,154 ever two weeks or $54,308 a month to clean up the park only to allow the homeless encampment to return.
The link to news source material is here:
REPEAL OF “SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES” NOT A DONE DEAL
Keller’s announcement seeking a change in policy to deal with illegal homeless encampments also comes after tremendous public outcry and objections to the City Council enacting legislation that amended the Integrated Development Ordinance to allow for city sanctioned “safe outdoor spaces”. On June 6, the legislation passed on a 5 to 4 vote.
“Safe outdoor spaces” are city sanctioned managed campsites where the homeless can sleep in tents or cars and access toilets and showers. The designated open space areas would accommodate upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, and would require 6 foot fencing and with social services offered.
On June 22, two bills were introduced at City Council by Brook Bassan that could eventually repeal safe outdoor spaces. One bill introduced would stop the city from accepting or approving safe outdoor space applications and the other will eliminate “safe outdoor spaces” from the zoning code altogether.
The problem is that the city council will not take action on either resolution until August. Safe outdoor spaces will become legal in Albuquerque on July 28 and people can apply for the land use.
Until the two bills are enacted, land owners or operators can submit applications for the land use. The applications need not earn full city approval but must be considered complete. Planning Department spokesman Tim Walsh had this to say:
“An application for [the safe outdoor space zoning] locks in to the existing zoning laws when it is deemed complete. … Therefore, if an application was completed in the interim between when the IDO goes into effect and when a provision was rescinded, the application can still be processed and approved.”
The link to the quoted news source material is here:
KELLER’S STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
On Saturday, June 25, Mayor Tim Keller gave his “State of The City” address. Not at all surprising, Keller bought up the city’s homeless crisis. Keller noted that homelessness is “on display in so many areas in our city”. Keller had this to say:
“We have to open new ways, new pathways, to longstanding problems and try new approaches. We’ve got to be agile, we’ve got to learn and we’ve got to keep creating pathways to stability. That is why we are revisiting our approach to homelessness and encampments.”
Keller also said in his state of the city address that the city needs “an all-of-the-above approach” to deal with the homeless crisis explaining that includes rental-assistance vouchers, affordable housing development, hotel-to-apartment conversions, and the Gateway Center Homeless Shelter that will be Located in the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson.
KELLER PROCLAIMS “REVISITING” POLICY
In announcing his decision of “revisiting” how the city addresses homeless encampments and in particular Coronado Park, Keller said the current situation is unacceptable and said “it’s not going to stand.”
In a meeting with Albuquerque Journal, Keller had this to say:
“We know we need to get our ducks in a row. It is extremely dangerous for our officers, for our civilians, for the unsheltered and for taxpayer funding because of litigation, to make a rash decision about how we handle Coronado … [I have issued] marching orders … But I want to make sure we do the best job we can in terms of getting it right, and not just creating 1,000 other fires all around it.”
According to an Albuquerque Journal report, Keller said developing a new policy to deal with illegal homeless encampments “will require assessing what alternatives are available, determining what resources the city has for cleaning encampments and perhaps how it can do more within existing legal parameters.” Those options include the city’s 2015 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), signed after the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” within APD and finding APD had a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing and its 2017 settlement in the federal McClendon lawsuit over jail conditions and overcrowding.
Mayor Keller said he has ordered the city’s legal department to do further “interpretation” of what the city can and cannot do. Keller said this:
“Historically, we have not [interpreted the case]. … We have just said, ‘Well, McClendon’… Well, now we [will] interpret McClendon.”
According to Assistant City Attorney Kevin Morrow, there have been lawsuits around the country about encampments, vagrancy, trespassing in public places and similar issues but few definitive answers.
Morrow said this:
“There hasn’t been clear, clear guidance anywhere [about] the ways in which we can clearly and constitutionally clean up the community while respecting the rights of those experiencing homelessness.”
Mayor Keller also said some solutions could be converting old hotels into apartments, investing in affordable housing, and getting zoning approval for the new Gateway Center Homeless Shelter. Keller’s office did confirm the changes about its homeless camp approach could be coming by the end of July.
The link to the entire quoted Journal article is here:
TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT MC CLENDON
The case of McClendon v. City of Albuquerque is a class-action lawsuit filed on January 10, 1995 in the United States Federal District Court by detainees at the Bernalillo County Detention Center (BCDC) in Albuquerque. The 1995 class-action lawsuit alleged that gross overcrowding and racial discrimination at the jail violated the constitutional rights of inmates.
The federal class action lawsuit sought injunctive and declaratory relief enjoining the operation of the jail exceeding its capacity and operating it with deplorable living conditions.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the downtown 8 story Bernalillo County detention center, torn down late 2021, had a maximum capacity of 800, but the jail was repeatedly overcrowded with as many as 1,400 inmates who were often doubled up and living conditions were abhorrent. The overcrowding became so bad that the federal court would hold weekly and monthly status conferences and order the release of nonviolent defendants to reduce the overcrowding at the jail.
In 2017 the city entered into a stipulated settlement agreement in the McClendon federal case where the city agreed that people accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will not be arrested where there is no circumstances requiring an arrest. The primary reason for the settlement was to prevent jail overcrowding and it had absolutely nothing to do with or how the homeless are treated.
When it comes to “homeless crimes”, meaning illegal camping, criminal trespassing and loitering, those offenders are not to be arrested as the “primary intervention”. Under the settlement terms, police still have the option to issue citations and still have the discretionary authority to make felony and misdemeanor arrests as they deemed appropriate and where the circumstances warrant.
The city confirmed it’s taking another legal look at the McClendon v. City of Albuquerque settlement agreement from 2017 limiting police officers’ ability to make arrests for non-violent crimes and what kind of discretion the agreement provides officers to make arrests.
The agreement states “…whether a person has a permanent address may not be the sole factor in determining whether to arrest rather than issue a citation.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
POLICE UNION REACTS
The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association was quick to react to Mayor Keller’s announcement to revisiting city policy on how to deal with the homeless. The police union was just as quick to mislead the general public once again by saying police have been “handcuffed” from doing their job. Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers said police officers have been wanting to enforce the laws but a settlement has prevented that for years. Willoughby had this to say:
“I pray that it means a more aggressive approach from the Albuquerque Police Department. … It’s because of policies like McClendon that have handcuffed police officers. … The police department has kind of strayed away from making misdemeanor arrests in certain criteria in certain circumstances. … Officers had been told through special order and communication not to go into these homeless encampments and enforce the law.”
SPECIAL ORDER WITHDRAWN
Ostensibly what Willougby was referring to when he said officers have been told through “special order” not to go into homeless encampments was “Department Special Order 22-46” issued on April 26, 2022 but it was abruptly withdrawn on June 2, 2022. The special order outlined the process APD police were to use for responding to “unlawful encampments on public property.”
The special order was 3 pages and provided in part that “Sworn personnel shall make all reasonable efforts to pursue non punitive, services-based approaches and shall not attempt to enforce littering, trespassing, obstruction of sidewalk, and other laws and ordinances … unless [the Family Community Services Department] FCS personnel request such enforcement.” The special order was in effect for mere 5 weeks and was ordered withdrawn on June 2, 2022 by the APD Chief’s office “effective immediately” when it was deemed untenable and too restrictive. It is no longer APD Department policy, yet Willougby falsely proclaims APD cannot go into homeless encampments.
SPECIAL ORDER 17-53 AND SOP 2-80
What has been a common public relations ploy of the APD police union for the past 3 years is to falsely argue that police officers’ hands are tied or they are afraid to do their job for fear of being disciplined. It is not that their hands are tied. The blunt truth is that APD police officer’s failure to do their jobs and enforce the law is more out of fear as opposed to the reality. If an APD officer adheres to their training in constitutional policing practices and APD standard operating procedures, the likelihood of any lawsuit being filed against them, or discipline being imposed, is not at all likely and is remote at best.
It was on May 10, 2018 in a memo addressed by then APD Chief Gorden Eden to all sworn APD personnel that Department Special Order 17-53 was issued. Special Order 17-53 and 2-80 were the result of the settlement of the 20-plus year McClendon Lawsuit. The lawsuit primarily focused on civil rights violations and the conditions within the City/County lockup.
Special Order 17-53 states:
“[A]ll officers shall issue citations when appropriate in lieu of arrests on non-violent misdemeanor offenses. … officers shall issue citations when appropriate in lieu of arrest on non-violent misdemeanor offenses when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest.”
The misdemeanor offenses affected by Special Order 17-53 include criminal trespass, loitering, criminal damage to property under $1,000, shoplifting under $500, shoplifting under $250, prostitution, receiving or possessing stolen property under $100. Note that the homeless are not mentioned. When a citation is issued for trespass or loitering, the officer can instruct the nonviolent offender to move on under the threat of arrest. The policy remains in place to this day.
The memo makes it clear that officers may make an arrest if it is necessary, and if they do, an incident report must be prepared, and the incident report must include the reasons why an arrest was made. At the time the special order was issued, then Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman issued the following statement:
“This order in no way restricts officers’ discretion to make arrests when necessary to protect the public. Citations have always been an available option for certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses. This special order … [is to]remind officers to issue citations ‘when appropriate’ and ‘when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest.’ We are still aggressively pursuing repeat offenders, and this order does not change an officer’s ability to arrest.”
The fact that police are required to file offense reports with nonviolent misdemeanor arrests justifying the arrest more likely than not contributes to an officer’s reluctance to act given the high volume of calls for service police are dispatched to on any given day. The time it takes to write and offense report detailing the facts and circumstances of a nonviolent crime can be time consuming with time better spent dealing with more urgent emergency 911 calls.
CYNICAL REACTION TO KELLER’S REVISITING HOW TO DEAL WITH ENCAMPMENTS
Doreen McKnight is the president of the Wells Park Neighborhood Association. Coronado Park is located within the Wells Park Neighborhood. According to McKnight, Coronado Park is much more than just an eyesore, it’s a dangerous place. McKnight had this to say:
“We have a lot of drug use. There’s a lot of crimes there, numerous people have been murdered there. Some years ago there was a woman that was sexually assaulted there. I’m sure there’s probably been unreported sexual assaults there and it’s really, really dangerous. … I think that the issues with the city to address homeless encampments have been the same issues that have been going on for years. So, I’m not exactly sure what they intend to change. I’m glad they’re revisiting this, but I think they do this every couple years when there’s a lot of complaints about it.”
On June 22, Democrat City Councilor Louie Sanchez during a lengthy discussion about illegal encampments had this to say:
“The [Keller] administration is 100% ignoring what we’re talking about here and what is going on and what the citizens of Albuquerque are demanding. … Why is the administration, [and police] afraid of taking care of business at Coronado Park? It’s a crime-infested, illegal, de facto sanctioned-by-the-city park, and we are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on it.”
City Councilor Pat Davis said he was pleased to hear about the Keller Administration’s policy review after he complained during the June 22 council meeting that the city lacks a “comprehensive homelessness strategy” and having asked city attorneys to look at how other cities in the region are legally tackling the situation. Davis said the administration has too often “leaned on” the fear of lawsuits and he said this:
“We’ve heard a lot of hand-wringing and ‘I’m worried we’ll get sued.” … But we don’t know how other cities address it. … I’m excited [the policies are being revisited] and they’re taking the lead and trying to answer some of those questions.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico cautioned that any potential policy change that emerges from the Keller Administration review must account for the rights of the unhoused. ACLU of New Mexico legal director Maria Martinez Sanchez said in a statement:
“We cannot comment on a policy we have not yet seen, however, any decision the City makes with respect to Coronado Park or other issues regarding our unhoused population must not further criminalize poverty or homelessness and must respect the civil and constitutional rights of those living in encampments … The solutions to these problems are not sweeping people under the rug or throwing them in jail.”
CLEANING OUT THE ILLEGAL ENCAMPMENTS
According to city officials, the city is clearing out close to 100 encampments a month, with 732 camps cleared since the beginning of the year. According to city officials, the reason for Coronado Park becoming such a large homeless encampment is the pandemic. The city did not clear out the park to minimize the spread of COVID-19. City officials are now saying they are trying to find a way to clear the park but have nowhere to send those staying there.
Dave Simon, Director of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department had this to say about Coronado Park:
“We thoroughly clean it once every two weeks; what we have here is a temporary situation that’s better than the alternative, which is to have many homeless encampments throughout the neighborhood. ”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is little doubt that Coronado Park has now become a symbol of Mayor Tim Keller’s failure as Mayor to deal with the homeless crisis. Whatever changes in policy Keller comes up with now to deal with the homeless encampments will likely fall short given his propensity to be only concerned about the superficial, public relations and the sound bite.
What Keller now comes up with will be viewed as his acknowledgement of his failure to deal with the crisis over the last 4 years. What Keller has shown is just how insensitive he has been to the needs of the general public and to public safety in order to push his own personal agenda.
Keller has allowed a once beautiful and pristine park dedicated to public use to become a festering blight on the community. Simply put, it has become an embarrassment with the city violating its own ordinances and nuisance laws by allowing overnight camping and criminal conduct in the park thus creating a public nuisance both under state law and city ordinance.