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The Albuquerque Police Department has launched a Community Ambassador Program that will designate certain officers to work as liaisons with different communities throughout the city.
Rebecca Atkins, an APD spokeswoman, said the officers will receive advanced training in community relations and will take concerns to Interim Police Chief Harold Medina every month. She said they will start with five groups: the Asian, Hispanic, Black and Native American communities, and the LGBTQ community.
She said the initiative is aimed at establishing “clear, consistent lines of communication” with those that have not had formal relationships with law enforcement in the past. Officers will also work on recruiting to diversify the department.
“We know there are diverse groups and viewpoints even within these communities,” Medina said in a news release. “Our goal is to build relationships and address concerns about the inequalities in our community. This is a way for our officers to lend an ear and bring those concerns to the appropriate parties so we can help make necessary change.”
One of the groups APD has begun working with is the Black New Mexico Movement, which organized and participated in many protests against racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. Officers and activists will deliver turkey dinners to families and staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital this week.
La’Quonte’ Barry, an organizer with the Black New Mexico Movement, said he likes the idea of the program and has been pleased with the response from Chief Medina since he took over the department. He said that after a car drove through a protest on Central across from UNM in late September, Medina called him personally.
“He was upset about that,” Barry said. “… About three days later, we met up and had a conversation, and that’s when everything started to go into more of what we want, and how we can be an assistance to what they already have.”
Barry had his own fraught history with police at protests. He was charged with carrying a gun on school property in July after he and another activist with the Black New Mexico Movement took guns to Civic Plaza, not realizing they were banned. That case has since been dismissed.
He said that in conversations with Medina he stressed that protesters want to be able to gather and march without the heavy police presence that gives the impression that the group is violent or aggressive.
Since he started talking with Medina, Barry said, the police presence at protests has been greatly diminished.
“That’s what our movement was about, the community approach,” Barry said. “… It wasn’t about being violent; it was about getting answers. And that’s where we are now: We’re getting answers; we’re speaking to people.”