With the city facing serious challenges – a rising crime rate chief among them – Keller will need to hit the ground running. That he already has in place an experienced transition team – including a strong presence from his staff at the state Auditor’s Office – is a positive sign.
Keller himself has said his No. 1 goal will be to attack the crime rate. Last year, Albuquerque had the highest per-capita rate of auto theft in the nation, with more than 10,000 vehicles stolen. And the metro area is a key contributor to New Mexico having the highest per capita property crime rate in the nation in 2016 and the second-highest per capita rate of violent crime.
On top of those disturbing statistics, this week, the city posted its highest number of homicides since 1996.
So Keller’s appointment of Oriana Sandoval, chief executive officer at the Center for Civic Policy, to a newly created position of “deputy city attorney” to focus on immigrant rights protection, refugee affairs, environmental justice and civil rights, is baffling.
In every recent poll, Albuquerqueans have overwhelmingly called crime the major concern facing the city – not refugees or environmental justice. It’s unfortunate that one of the new mayor’s very first hires bolsters concerns raised by his opponents – that he would focus on a national progressive agenda vs. addressing local concerns.
But Keller has earned a reputation for being able to pull divergent interests together for the common good. He outlined an ambitious crime-reduction plan during the hard-hitting mayoral campaign that relies on cooperation and coordination with police agencies, the courts, the DA’s Office and social services. He has already met with District Attorney Raúl Torrez and they have announced efforts to coordinate resources and work together.
One of Keller’s biggest challenges will be putting enough qualified police officers on the street. Keller says he’ll be able to accomplish what his predecessor could not – grow and maintain the city’s roughly 850-officer department by at least 150. Critics question whether that new deputy city attorney position would have been more valuable as a position aimed at boosting officer-recruiting efforts.
Fortunately, Keller’s choice of Michael Geier as interim police chief is a strong one and is receiving high marks from many quarters, including the city’s police union.
Keller also has promised to focus resources on the city’s core Downtown area, provide after-school programs and improve the area’s job growth.
Welcome, Mayor Keller, to what promises to be a pivotal period for the Duke City.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.