ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department’s troubles with the U.S. Department of Justice have torpedoed talks of consolidating city and county public safety agencies, at least for now.
The city had already authorized $50,000 for a consolidation study and was asking the county to pony up another $50,000 for the study, which would have looked at the feasibility of consolidating APD with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and city and county fire departments.
But at last week’s County Commission meeting, commissioners put the brakes on consolidation talks, due in large part to the settlement agreement between APD and the DOJ.
Ken Sanchez, one of three city councilors pushing for the study, said Friday that he was disappointed the county had decided not to move forward with exploring consolidation.
Sanchez said the study would have outlined possible benefits, including significant savings for taxpayers. Both the city and county are struggling financially, he said, and this could have saved taxpayers lots of money.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who joined Sanchez and two other city councilors during a news conference in March to announce plans for the study, urged commissioners last week not to move forward with the study.
“I think that just based on the state of the city’s law enforcement agency, it wouldn’t be the wisest thing at this point,” he said. “Maybe in the future when they get out from underneath the Department of Justice and their compliances.”
The city entered into a settlement agreement with the DOJ in 2015 after federal investigators determined APD had a pattern of excessive force. The agreement outlines a series of reforms that must be undertaken.
Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who is running for mayor, also expressed reservations about any merger.
“They’re a very good department, but, on the other hand, they do have some problems that we don’t need to buy into at this point,” he said, referring to APD.
Johnson said the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has an excellent reputation, and he wouldn’t want to see that tarnished.
“I in no way want anybody to think I’m trashing APD, because I’m not,” he said. “There are some very good men and women working there, but the undeniable fact is they have some issues that need to be resolved.”
Commissioner Lonnie Talbert agreed that now might not be the best time for consolidation, but he urged his colleagues not to rule it out, saying it has worked well in other larger cities.
Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins was also opposed to moving forward with the study. But she said she does support conversations about what the sheriff’s office can do to help serve Albuquerque residents.