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Council approves $280K for ‘party intervention’

An APD officer writes a citation to underage drinkers at a party near UNM in 2006. The City Council voted Monday to fund a new program hoping to combat underage drinking, drug use and violence. (Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Forget the old “party patrol.”

No, really, please forget it.

That was the message several Albuquerque leaders tried to convey Monday night as the City Council voted to give the Albuquerque Police Department $280,000 for the “party intervention team,” new program meant to combat underage drinking, drug use and party violence.

The council voted 7-2 to approve the funds while trying to allay citizen concerns that the program would traumatize and criminalize youth.

Several councilors and the highest-ranking official in Mayor Tim Keller’s administration stressed that PIT was not the same as the “party patrol” the police department operated in the early 2000s. That program sent officers working special overtime shifts to break up parties every Friday and Saturday night and averaged a few thousand citations annually. For the first few years, APD even cited underage partiers who were not in possession of alcohol.

Albuquerque police have partygoers show their ID outside a house during a “party patrol” stop in 2008. Mayor Tim Keller says his “party intervention team” will be different. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

And in 2007, a federal judge ruled that the party patrol officers who entered a home without a search warrant had violated the owner’s constitutional rights.

Councilor Ken Sanchez, who co-sponsored the bill with Trudy Jones and Brad Winter, said that PIT is “new and, I believe, innovative.”

Councilor Diane Gibson called it “such a kinder, gentler version of what we think of when we think of ‘party patrol,'” and noted that APD has for more than a year been doing some youth party control and in that span cited only one adult and one minor.

“We remember the days the APD officers would line up the kids and hand out the minor-in-possession citations. That is not something we want to do,” said Sarita Nair, Keller’s chief administrative officer. “We remember when those citations were then referred to Albuquerque Public Schools and those kids had trouble participating in sports. That is not something we want to do.”

The PIT funding bill says the city “is committed to identifying youthful offenders who need assistance and rehabilitative efforts that will reduce the likelihood of recidivism, rather than triggering a cycle of involvement in the criminal justice system or creating a school-to-prison pipeline.”

The goal is to instead send underage partygoers to a rehabilitative program, though an APD spokesman indicated that the threat of a citation may be the leverage the city uses to get young people into a diversion program.

“Those details will be worked out. But generally that is the idea,” APD’s Gilbert Gallegos said in an email.

But several speakers during public comment argued against the program given the city’s history, with one questioning if the new version would really turn out better.

“You didn’t get it right the first time,” he said.

Others implored the council to defer a vote until getting feedback directly from young people.

“If we want to have something that’s going to affect young people, we should have young people having some input into what’s going on – that’s just like a basic one-plus-one for me,” said 26-year-old Omar Torres.

The city has yet to fully outline the program’s details, something Councilors Isaac Benton and Klarissa Peña each noted before casting votes against the funding.

Councilor Pat Davis successfully proposed an amendment to the bill that directs APD to consult with APS, youth advocates and community partners to develop PIT.

Winter – who sponsored the original “party patrol” legislation nearly 20 years ago – said he had no desire to see the program reinstituted as it was and that his aim now was to find a new way to combat some of the problems Albuquerque is experiencing.

There have been 20 house party shootings so far this year, according to APD.

Just last month, 17-year-old Sandia High School senior Sean Markey died following a shooting at a high school homecoming party.

“I just think we need to do something – at this point we need a short-term plan and a long-term plan. … The whole point is how are we going to keep youth safe?” Winter said.

Mayor Keller weighed in following Monday’s vote saying his administration does not want to repeat past mistakes.

“Our Party Intervention Team will break up unlawful parties to keep kids safe from violence and hold parents and homeowners accountable for contributing to dangerous incidents,” Keller said in a statement. “We worked with the City Council and the community to fix issues from past approaches.”

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