Monday, March 31, 2014

In the Streets

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?"

                        Dan Klein


Bubba Muntzer said...

Dan Klein's piece is indeed thought provoking. It also contains a lot of information a well informed citizenry would have to know to decide the question he poses at the end, "What do you want your police department's mission to be?"

A thought that occurs to me after reading it is, does the city of Albuquerque, as a society, a collective whole, and through its elected government, have the ability to solve the problems it creates for itself?

If not, why not?

If so, what's preventing it from doing so?

I put it in such general terms because some of the solutions Dan Klein mentions have to do with general societal problems, like improving the economy, and providing mental health services to the people who are left out of the economy. I agree. Many problems you might think have specifically to do with policing can't be isolated from a general equation.

A couple of my thoughts. Solutions to problems in the past often have come from academia. I haven't heard anything from anyone up there at the university lately. Academia has changed a lot since the advent of Neoliberalism. If you want tenure, if you want funds for your research, you keep your mouth shut and you serve the corporations that call the shots at universities now.

Also, the kind of solutions that have come from academia, say, research from someone studying what has worked in policing in various places and what hasn't, has traditionally become policy because Liberal politicians became aware of it or went looking for it or asked for it to be done.

We don't have Liberal politicians any more. We have politicians who think the answers to our problems will come from entrepreneurship. We have politicians who cut funding for education and research, for Head Start, a program that builds the very foundation of the educational system. You don't hear our New Mexico Democrats talking about education, but you endlessly hear them celebrating entrepreneurship.

And you see them continuing the policy that has gutted funding for the educational system from bottom to top. Don't tax people with money. Don't tax corporations. Let them be entrepreneurs.

It's like they said in the beginning, if you want a democracy that works you need a well informed citizenry. If you want people who know the difference between a thinking politician and one who tosses out hot button statements, you can't keep making it impossible for the people who are doing the voting to get a decent education.

Realist said...

When I bring up issues like the poor economy, all too often the response is: if you don't like it, move somewhere else. There is lots to like about New Mexico, but surely it would be a better place if we weren't in the bottom quintile of economic performance, education, child welfare, drug abuse, performance of state pension plans, etc, etc...

State spirit and New Mexico are great, but we will find it hard to remedy our many serious problems as long as we either ignore the problems or set them aside with glib excuses. I’ve been told that the Wall Street banks are at fault for New Mexico’s economy (I don’t like the big banks, but this hardly explains why we have a worse economy than all our neighboring states). I recently mentioned to a friend that only a quarter of students in many of our schools can bass basic reading and math equivalency tests, this friend's response was how terrible it was that teachers have to teach to the tests and tests don't measure intelligence well. Who cares! Even if their response is true, where is the outrage? Those kinds of systematic test results are outrageously bad and should not be brushed aside.

As long as people keep ignoring the problems, or worse in my mind, take pride in things being the way they are, the police are going to be blamed for the inevitable problems that arise when a small group of people has to face the worse society can create every day. In some ways our attitude towards the police reminds me of how we treated Vietnam veterans. The police have to face difficult, ugly, dangerous situations day in and day out, and when one of them finally errors we persecute them while blissfully ignoring the underlying fundamental problems. I’m not suggesting we don’t persecute bad cops, but where is the respect for the rest of them that are dealing with the crap we’re too prideful to admit is fundamentally messed up? APD is in the unfortunate situation of dealing with the messes created by the flaws in our society and being a readily identifiable organization that people can blame. It’s hard to have a protest against complex things like healthcare being unaffordable when maybe 1 out of 100 people has even has a basic understanding of how the healthcare system functions.

Anonymous said...

I told my kids not to become cops, teachers or social workers. You get paid like crap, treated like crap and blamed for everything.

Bubba Muntzer said...

The Realist makes some good points but I differ with him on his view of the police. As for the "good" officers, as has been pointed out elsewhere, where have they been while their partners have been blowing away unarmed people? Why aren't they weeding out the bad apples? Where's their pride in the force and sense of civic duty?

I say this as someone who grew up being taught that you don't mess with someone else's livelihood. You don't rat out a fellow worker. You don't have the right to take food from someone else's table. If a co-worker needs correcting for some reason there are other ways of handling it.

It's not hard to imagine the police being loyal to each other, and as the Realist says they have an especially hard job. But this is about peoples' lives. If a cop doesn't want to turn in a bad cop, handle it some other way, but handle it.

And just as matter of record, Vietnam veterans weren't treated badly. There's no record of any of them ever being spat upon, but that's one of those urban legends that's gotten into the culture. It's been repeated and repeated and repeated, but never has any evidence for it been put forth.

Realist said...

Hi Bubba Muntzer,

My Dad is a Vietnam vet. He told me he was spat at the first day back from Vietnam and it’s not the kind of thing he would make up. I just googled it and was surprised to see the number of stories claiming there was proof that Vietnam vets were not spit on (they cite the complete lack of news coverage of spitting events at the time as their proof). Setting aside it’s strange to claim certain proof that something plausible never occurred, a few minutes on google finds countless firsthand accounts from veterans saying they were spit on (it’s not clear why the myth proponents ignore these accounts – all veterans are liars I guess because even if one of those accounts were true then it would be false no veterans were spit upon). And, just below the Vietnam Vets being spit on is a Myth results in Google I found a webpage with pictures of many news stories from the late 60s discussing Vietnam Vets being spat on (ironic because in 5 min. on google anyone can find the news stories the myth proponents claim don’t exist). The example stories are half way down this webpage (I’m not familiar with the webpage, but the pictures of news stories do look legit):

There’s certainly endless accounts of Vietnam Vets being treated badly if you google Vietnam Vet Treatment. The fascinating thing to me is why is the idea that no Vietnam vet was ever spit upon so appealing a meme despite evidence to the contrary?

Setting that all aside though. I agree with many of your points. If stress and PTSD makes a soldier or cop commit a crime, it's still a crime. And, I agree a cop should quit before they turn into a bad cop. I just find people all too quick to only blame the cop instead of trying to fix the situation that society has sent that cop to deal with or trying to understand how dealing with that situation every day is an impossible job that can change a person. I bet there are lots of good police officers who do have civic duty and have stopped bad cops. We have an information bias though where we only hear about the times that didn’t occur. Cops should have our respect and empathy while we ruthlessly seek to remove cops who are no longer able to maintain the highest standards. If bad cops aren’t being ruthlessly removed, I blame management (including the mayor) and not APD in general.