In the wake of the killing of African American George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck to subdue him, a Black Lives Matter Movement is sweeping cities across the country called defund the police. The movement is not what it sounds like.
Defund the police defined in simple terms means taking funding away from police forces to invest or reallocate funding into social programs, housing, education and economic development and job growth to address the real causes of crime. The city and the county have essentially combined geographically. Both the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office have way too much overlap, with taxpayers in the city paying for essentially two law enforcement agencies.
Disbanding entire police departments has happened before in U.S. cities. In 2012, with crime rampant in Camden, New Jersey, the city disbanded its entire police department and replaced it with a new force that covered Camden County.
Abolishing the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) is long overdue – both should be defunded with functions consolidated. APD employs 980 full-time sworn police and has total staffing upward of 1,400, with an annual budget of $207,877,000. BCSO employs 300 sworn deputies and 121 civilian staff for a total of 421 with an annual budget of $57,539,000.
There is precedent. The New Mexico Legislature created the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, taking assets from the city and county and creating a governing authority. Both APD and BCSO can be defunded by the Legislature with the creation of Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Police Authority (ABBCO Police Authority).
The New Mexico Legislature can enact enabling legislation that would include a constitutional amendment abolishing the office of sheriff for class “A” counties, those with populations exceeding 500,000, and mandating the creation of ABQ-County law enforcement authority. A permanent dedicated funding source consisting of a combination of gross receipts tax and property tax taken from municipal and county existing taxing authority would be transferred or authorized by the Legislature to the authority.
If the Legislature won’t consolidate APD and BCSO, the Bernalillo County Commission and the City Council need to with the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding or a consolidation contract. Such an action is ripe for implementation because of, and would take advantage of, the defund-the-police movement.
The city and county law enforcement budgets would be combined, with deductions in budgets for duplication of services. Assets, personnel, office space, area commands, emergency operations dispatching and academy training would be combined with a negotiated MOU. Savings from consolidating APD and BCSO budgets would be identified, and those funds reallocated to social programs, housing, education and job creation programs.
Personnel policies, rules, regulations, standard operating procedure and internal affairs function would be developed for the authority. Most importantly, uniform police standard operating procedures and constitutional policing training and practices would be implemented, such as mandatory use of lapel cameras and de-escalations tactics.
A police authority would be created with a civilian governing board of five members: the mayor, City Council president, Bernalillo County Commission chairperson, Bernalillo County manager and the chief or presiding judge of the Second Judicial District Court, all who would serve no more than two four-year staggered terms.
A Police Authority commissioner would be appointed by the civilian governing board. ABBCO commissioner would be a contracted position who could only be terminated for cause as defined in the contract with compensation established by the governing board. The commissioner would have the identical or combined authority as the APD chief and Bernalillo County sheriff to run and operate the authority.
Consolidation of both law enforcement authorities is long overdue. Both law enforcement agencies can and should be combined and streamlined into one Albuquerque and Bernalillo County regional law enforcement authority or an ABBCO Police Authority.