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Community policing can work again in ABQ

The media has extensively reported that Albuquerque is facing a crime crisis. We’ve heard and read comments from some about how this current crime crisis is the fault of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, teachers, parents, even the ART project. While pointing fingers as to who is to blame for the crime situation is easy, it is only a temporary distraction that does not solve the problem.

Some categories of crime, such as residential burglaries, have seen a decrease in recent reporting periods. Others such as homicides are headed toward record levels again, with 69 so far this year compared to about 52 for the same time last year.

We must always remember the personal effect crime has on victims and their families. Perhaps we may not be able to completely eliminate crime, but we can do a better job by collectively working together focusing on solutions rather than who might be to blame.

Much of the responsibility for reducing crime is placed on law enforcement agencies’ innovation and effective crime-fighting strategies. Community involvement is an integral part of the crime-reduction equation.

In general, the basics of policing have remained relatively the same for more than a century except for technological innovation. The focus of policing may shift to adapt to social or legal changes. In the ’90s, the model of community policing with a focus on a cooperative bond between police and the public, worked well in Albuquerque. I served on the Albuquerque Police Department’s steering committee that facilitated the implementation of community policing in our city. Crime rates fell, and many residents and visitors felt safer.

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Patriot Act of 2001 was passed by Congress, which softened Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure protections and reduced other constitutional guarantees. APD and other law enforcement agencies shifted to a homeland security model of policing. This model held a stronger focus on the assessment of domestic terrorism, which unwittingly resulted in a swing of the pendulum for some to an “us versus them” approach to policing. This approach would be a return to an archaic form of policing that left the role of the community in crime prevention behind. We must be careful not regress to outdated models of policing.

While some communities were able to adapt to the rapidly evolving style of policing, our community struggled. According to a Department of Justice report in 2014, APD had a pattern and practice of violating constitutional rights of members of our community through the use of excessive force. As a result, taxpayers were burdened with the cost of the DOJ oversight through a court-mandated settlement agreement. Some would like to blame the DOJ for Albuquerque’s crime crisis by claiming APD’s officers became soft on crime due to the federal scrutiny, but that would be akin to a driver running a red light and blaming the police officer for issuing a citation. The DOJ is performing an important oversight function in our community.

As a member of the Police Oversight Task Force, (I know) great effort was placed into creating a system which would balance community police oversight without impacting effective policing strategies.

The former president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing provided direction to law enforcement agencies via several pillars that included building trust, oversight, technology, crime reduction (and) officer safety. These are lofty goals, each of which must be mastered by law enforcement agencies in order to establish and maintain the trust of the citizens they serve.

Much work has been put forth by community members and law enforcement in recent years in an effort to make APD a model agency and Albuquerque a safer place to raise a family. Sir Robert Peel, an early pioneer of modern-day policing, professed, “The police are the public, and the public are the police.” We can be positive change agents who work together with our law enforcement partners to reduce crime.

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