I can't remember the last time that citizens took to the streets in Albuquerque to vent against the state of things. It many ways it was refreshing to see people motivated enough to come out yesterday to smell the tear gas. But as one of my readers Dan Klein said, there is more to this. Here is the retired police officer's essay. I don't agree with all of it, but it is very thought provoking.
The media and public are demanding for someone to "fix" APD. Well if we want a real fix to the issues at APD we need to look deeper at our community as a whole. As a retired APD officer with a background in Criminal Justice I hope this article will get our community and police department back on solid ground.
The problems at APD are best described as a four-legged stool. The first leg is the well documented mismanagement of APD over the last ten years. This period of time has seen millions in judgments against APD, scandals and no one in authority holding the Chief and others in Command Positions accountable. So the first leg is a mismanaged police department.
The second leg in this mess belongs entirely to the community and our elected leaders. This leg has to do with making it illegal to be poor, homeless and mentally ill in our community. A good example of this is the Albuquerque City Council who have made it against the law for anyone to park their car with the purpose of living out of it. I doubt this law was written to impact anyone living in Tanoan. This law is specific to the poor, homeless and mentally ill. Council Benton wants APD to enforce this law. Thank goodness APD has so far refused. But the Boyd shooting was a direct response to a homeless person living in a camp in the Foothills. I guess it is easier if the homeless live in other places, not where we can see them. Since when did it become illegal to be poor? Benton and others make being poor illegal because they don't want to deal with them. The make a law, send the police and then express shame, sadness, surprise and outrage that the officers end up in a confrontation with these people. Well the shame belongs to us and our elected leaders. Being poor shouldn't be against the law. We only set our police up for failure when we create and demand enforcement of such ludicrous laws.
The third leg is our economy and lack of mental health and homeless support. The media has already reported on how bad our economy has been. In this horrible economy the only engine running is usually alcohol and drugs. New Mexico is last in the nation in Child Welfare. It seems our business community and government officials have no idea how to get our economic engine running again. Add to this Governor Martinez temporarily shutting down mental health providers last year, leaving thousands of mentally ill New Mexicans with no place to turn. She should have thought this through and had a back up plan to support these people. Instead the mental health providers were shut down and the police were left to deal with them and their crisis. No help for children, no help for our economy and no help for the mentally ill.
The fourth leg of this broken stool is known as "community based policing". Everyone loves this phrase yet know one knows what it means, how to do it and what the implications might be. In Albuquerque it was decided that APD would the the "go to" people for all problems with the community. This sounds nice but this should never have been the mission of APD. By having APD become the go to people, officers are tasked with dozens of problems that they should not be dealing with. From overgrown weeds in yards, to homeless people living in campgrounds or cars, to substandard buildings the list goes on and on. And once again we all act shocked when police officers deal with these issues and then it goes terribly wrong. The community needs to decide, what do you want the mission of APD to be? Then don't deviate from this mission. Right now APD is a jack of all trades and as we have seen a master of none.
This isn't written to make anyone feel bad. I am writing this because I see an opportunity for Albuquerque to right the ship and lead the nation into the next century of policing. We can do this by first giving APD a narrow, clearly defined mission. By electing city and county officials who will hold all levels of APD accountable, and the community holding these elected officials accountable when they vacate their responsibility. By not enacting laws that are discriminatory, such as against poor, homeless and mentally ill people. By creating programs within the government and community to help these people in need, not punish them. These programs should be run and managed by city departments that do not answer to APD and do not use APD personnel. These programs need to be run by the experts in social work, mental health and child welfare. They should only call in APD when a crime has or is about to occur. The governor and legislature should come in special session to address our economy, child welfare, homeless and mentally ill. They need to create public sector departments who partner with the private sector, to fix these issues. Lastly, the City of Albuquerque needs to embrace the entire community, including APD, and ask "What do you want your police department's mission to be?"