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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
In November, as the city tied its previous record for homicides, Mayor Tim Keller said his office and the Police Department had been working for months on a Violence Intervention Program.
They planned to ask the Legislature for $10 million for a statewide fund, $2 million of which would go to Albuquerque.
But legislators say they received the request in the form of a proposed bill from the city too late, and now they’re worried the funding won’t be included in the final budget.
The $10 million fund was not included in the version of the $7.6 billion budget that passed the House 46-24 Wednesday.
However, it could still be included in the final version of the bill that passes the Senate.
“The problem is on the money request; it may or may not be too late,” said Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, one of the sponsors of the bill. “I’m hoping we can get there, but I’m not optimistic.”
He said he saw the bill for the first time right before the 30-day session began. Although it cleared the House Judiciary Committee, it has not been heard by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
“It wasn’t a delay in the legislative process,” Ely said. “It’s one of those things. I just think we’re all going to have to get better at working partnerships between local and state entities, and even among the legislators themselves.”
Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, another sponsor of that bill, echoed Ely’s concerns.
“I don’t fault the city for this, because they’re constantly looking for solutions,” Chasey said. “We probably needed to have started talking about this as a funding priority in the summertime, at the latest.”
On the other hand, Keller, a former state senator, said he is not concerned.
“There’s a long road ahead,” he said. “We’re running it as a stand-alone bill because we want to educate people on how important it is and what it is. Those bills usually get rolled in as the budget leaves the House or in the end as it leaves the Senate. That’s the way we’ll know if we’re going to get that funding or not.”
On the same page
At a November news conference, officials from the city and the Albuquerque Police Department described the Violence Intervention Program as a partnership among law enforcement, prosecutors, social service providers and the community, and said it would address violence as a public health issue by focusing on victims and offenders of violent crimes. They said it would be modeled after Ceasefire in Oakland, California, which targets gang-related violence, but would also address domestic violence.
Many facets of the initiative had already been proposed by 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez almost two years ago.
And last April, Torrez announced his Crime Strategies Unit was creating scorecards of every shooting with injury or fatality in Bernalillo County as part of the first phase of the Violence Intervention Program. His office also entered a contract with the National Network for Safe Communities from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City, in which a team of analysts reviewed three years of gun violence to determine the biggest issues for Albuquerque.
“It’s something we’ve tried to get moving in Albuquerque for some time, and it’s just taken a while for everybody to get on the same page,” Torrez said. “But now it looks like everyone is, and if it gets fully funded and properly organized, I believe it will … drive down gun crime.”
Last month, Torrez, the mayor, a deputy chief of police and members of the Chamber of Commerce visited John Jay College in Manhattan, as well as a Ceasefire pilot program in New Haven, to learn more about what they need to do to implement the Violence Intervention Program. The next step is receiving the results of the analysts’ review of shootings.
Torrez said his office has funding set aside for its part in the Violence Intervention Program. The Police Department’s part of the program is also not dependent on money from the Legislature, according to an APD spokesman.
And Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman speaking on behalf of the city for legislative issues, said the program will be implemented regardless of whether the city receives the funding.
“House Bill 301 will help cities of all sizes direct services to both the people who are driving and who are most affected by crime,” Manzano added. “We were heartened by the bill making it through the House Judiciary Committee, and the conversation that happened in that committee meeting underscored the need for the fund. Our VIP initiatives will move forward either way, and we will continue to advocate for funding that will benefit similar programs throughout the state.”
Accountability a focus
House Bill 301 would provide a one-time appropriation of $10 million to be distributed by the Department of Health to cities determined to be “disproportionately impacted by violent crime, including homicides, shootings and aggravated assaults.”
Starting in July, the DOH would receive and review applications from cities for grants to combat violent crime. At least two of the cities must have a population of 50,000 or less, which would include Española, Roswell and Gallup.
At least 20% of the $10 million – $2 million – would be appropriated to a city with a population above 500,000. Albuquerque is the only city in the state that is that size.
If a city received a grant, at least 50% of the funding would have to go to community-based organizations. And once a year, in November, the city would be required to report on its processes, outputs and outcomes to the DOH and the New Mexico Sentencing Commission.
Ely said this last requirement is why he thinks a bill like this is so important.
“I like the philosophy of the bill, which is we can no longer give local entities money without making them accountable … for whether they’re meeting their goals or not,” he said.
Chasey also said she thought the bill was an important step toward combating violent crime and has the potential to provide restorative justice in the community. She said it was a shame officials didn’t start discussing funding a year ago.
“What I’m hoping at this point is perhaps the city of Albuquerque could get some funding through a grant or the Department of Justice,” Chasey said. “I’m not sure if those kinds of dollars are available anymore, but there were a number of years that would have been a possibility, at least to start it and try to get it funded in the future.”
Journal staff writer Jessica Dyer contributed to this report.