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Wanted: A mayor who’ll reduce crime

Tim Keller

Dan Lewis

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The surge in crime over the last few years has Albuquerque residents fearing that they, too, will become victims in the near future, so it’s no surprise that voters are wanting a mayor who will turn things around.

State Auditor Tim Keller, a Democrat, and City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, have each presented themselves to voters as the mayoral candidate who can get it done.

“We’re going to make sure (officers are) well led and well paid and have everything they need to do their job,” Lewis said during a recent debate.

“We’ve got to attack crime from all sides and that does mean reforming” the Albuquerque Police Department, Keller said. “But that means changing the way our entire department is run.”

Lewis and Keller agree on several points:

• Both would launch a national search for outgoing APD Chief Gorden Eden’s replacement.

• Both say APD needs 1,200 officers, although Keller has said the department may need as many as 1,400 officers.

• Both say APD should return to community policing, where officers are assigned to a specific beat and work closely with their neighborhoods to solve problems.

• Both say they would ensure that APD completes the U.S. Department of Justice reforms outlined in a settlement agreement as quickly as possible. The settlement agreement was reached after the DOJ found that the department engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional use of force, including fatal shootings.

• Both favor significant boosts in officer pay.

But there are also things that set the two candidates apart.

Lewis says one of his first acts as mayor would be to propose a midyear budget substitute that would pump $15 million more into APD to boost police officer pay. He has said the money would come from reprioritizing spending, citing as an example the millions of dollars the city spends every year on Albuquerque Public Schools related programs, including school crossing guards.

“We don’t have a money problem at City Hall, we have a priorities problem at City Hall,” he said during a recent debate.

Lewis has also said that APD offers one of the best retirements in the country, and he’ll use it to attract good officers, put them through a shortened academy and get them on the streets responding to calls. APD officers have the opportunity to retire with 90 percent of their top pay, and they can retire after 25 years.

Aggressively recruiting public safety aides who want a law enforcement career would also be on his to-do list.

And he has pledged to hold judges accountable.

“We’re going to judge the judges,” he said. “We’re going to have a scorecard … We have a broken criminal court system in this city that’s dumping dangerous people back out on our streets.”

Keller, meanwhile, has been endorsed by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, which applauded his crime plan and his commitment to bring competitive wages to APD, fund equipment for the department and launch an aggressive recruiting effort.

He has pledged that every officer, from the chief on down, will field calls for service.

“We’ve got to rededicate everything we do to community policing, to block by block policing,” Keller said during a recent debate. “The old-fashioned way of beat cops, officers on bike and on foot that we actually know and that are in our neighborhood year after year, and that we problem solve together with on a weekly basis.”

Keller has suggested that APD could increase its ranks by bringing its officer recruitment standards in line with state standards. APD currently has higher standards.

APD currently requires 32 credit hours from an accredited college or university with a minimum 2.0 grade point average in order to qualify as a police cadet, although it does allow for exceptions. The state academy doesn’t require college credits. Similarly, the state academy doesn’t require a polygraph test, while APD does. APD candidates are also disqualified if they have been convicted of DWI within five years, while the state academy rules prohibit a DWI conviction within three years.

Keller has also suggested an ROTC-like after-school program for high school students interested in a career in law enforcement.

And he has said a city like Albuquerque should have a professional head-hunting operation recruiting officers, particularly in times of shortage. Keller said he would stand up for officers and the community by working to come up with a use-of-force policy that protects both.

To be sure, getting a handle on Albuquerque’s crime problem will be an enormous undertaking, regardless of which candidate prevails in the Nov. 14 mayoral runoff.

Albuquerque is in the midst of a crime wave, with violent crime increasing by 15.15 percent from 2015 to 2016 and murders jumping by 41.8 percent during the same period. The FBI’s most recent Crime in the United States report also reveals that auto thefts are up by almost 50 percent.

Indeed, 2016 data show New Mexico with the highest property crime rate in the nation and the second highest rate for violent crime. That ranking is largely driven by what’s been happening in Albuquerque.

Then there are the outrageous – and at times horrifying – stories that have thrust Albuquerque’s crime problem into the national spotlight.

Ten-year-old Victoria Martens was raped, murdered and dismembered inside her West Side apartment 15 months ago. Victoria’s mother and two others are awaiting trial.

A television news station’s SUV was stolen from Downtown Albuquerque in June while the crew was gathering footage for a story about crime in the area.

A family stopping in Albuquerque for the night in September had their Chevy Trailblazer and U-Haul stolen from outside the southeast Albuquerque hotel where they stayed. Inside the trailer was the body of their loved one, which they were transporting from Oklahoma to Kirtland for burial.

To be sure, concern about crime has been front and center in Albuquerque mayoral elections for decades. But this time around, Albuquerque’s spike in crime is bucking the national trend of only modest increases in violent crime and decreases in burglaries and larcenies.

Outgoing Mayor Richard Berry has pointed to several causes for Albuquerque’s crime woes, including a shortage of officers that he blames, in part, on the state Legislature’s decision to not allow retired officers to return to work and continue collecting their pensions.

The city has budgeted for 1,000 officers but has only about 850. Berry has said there will be 925 officers “in the queue” for the next mayor, people who will have either completed the academy or prequalified for the academy by Dec. 1, when the new mayor takes over.

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