On Dec. 18, 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that Albuquerque was chosen as one of seven cities to participate in Operation Relentless Pursuit, a federal law enforcement initiative. (Federal agents, resources committed to fight violent crime in ABQ, Albuquerque Journal 12/18/2019).
The U.S. Department of Justice will funnel almost $9.7 million into the Albuquerque Police Department and about $1.5 million to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. The money is to be used to hire police officers and allow the APD to work with federal law enforcement agencies to target gangs, drug trafficking and other violent crime. Operation Relentless Pursuit (ORP) fit nicely into Mayor (Tim) Keller’s campaign promise to put more officers on the streets of Albuquerque. Shortly thereafter, the Journal extended kudos to the feds for partnering with local law enforcement. (Editorial: ‘Relentless Pursuit’ may take a bite out of ABQ crime, 12/27/2019). Fair enough, at the time.
Much has changed since then. Across the nation and here in Albuquerque citizens are taking to the streets and demonstrating their concern that a system of justice that is supposed to be color blind simply is not. Police departments are being pressured to moderate their aggressive tactics and focus on an awareness of the community they serve.
Many departments are responding and finding a concurrent fall in crime rates. Mass incarceration is now an acknowledged evil of our justice system; it is racist, it needlessly saps economic resources put to better use elsewhere, leaves families broken and extracts an unseemly human toll in young lives ruined before they have matured.
Mayor Keller also promised reform of the police department and voiced an enthusiasm for intensive community policing. Operation Relentless Pursuit will be funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the local police will report to federal law enforcement agencies, which do not always represent the conscience of the community. The very name, “Operation Relentless Pursuit,” hardly resonates with concern for the culture of the community. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like a campaign slogan, which it may yet prove to be.
The Justice Department can no longer be trusted. It has lost its integrity. It has proven itself to be another tool of the president to use as he sees fit to help his friends and further his political aspirations. Federal money, as tempting as it may be, does not always inure to the lasting benefit of the city. Albuquerque’s experience with ART should serve as a painful and immediate lesson.
Albuquerque received notice of funding for Operation Relentless Pursuit on June 25. It has 45 days to accept the money providing it agrees to specific conditions set by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is not too late to act. Mayor Keller and the City Council should consider rejecting the grant. Low-income communities, like the International District and the South Valley, will certainly be targeted. Major drug dealers do not live in the International District; poor folks do.
Experience with federally funded crime control initiatives demonstrates that low-level criminals will be caught up in ORP and face draconian sentences, but the root causes of violent crime will remain unaddressed. Their places in the drug trade will be taken by those for whom life’s opportunities are similarly bleak.
Operation Relentless Pursuit will declare itself a success based solely on the numbers of incarcerated souls, and the president will praise himself for being tough on crime. The causes of drug addiction and violence, the market for drugs and the lack of meaningful opportunities for the people of the community will persist.
(While) $9.7 million to pay for new police officers may seem too enticing to refuse, especially at a time when the city’s coffers are stretched to their limits, before accepting the funds, Albuquerque must forge a binding agreement with the Department of Justice that gives the city control over the management of Operation Relentless Pursuit, makes certain it practices solid principles of community policing, requires the operation of ORP be transparent and not be biased by race or poverty.
This is our money, and these are our neighborhoods. We must have assurances Operation Relentless Pursuit will serve the true needs of our community.