Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In a move supporters say could remove at least one barrier stopping people from reporting domestic violence, the City Council has voted to direct the Albuquerque Police Department to explore a “safe harbor” policy for victims who might have had their own brushes with the law.
The council on Monday passed Pat Davis’ resolution requiring APD to work with criminal justice partners to examine and, if feasible, implement a policy allowing domestic violence and sexual assault victims to contact police without the threat of being arrested for unrelated, pending or potential misdemeanor charges or warrants. It could potentially expand into certain nonviolent felony warrants, as well.
APD Chief Harold Medina – whose own son’s experience helped spur the legislation – said such a policy would jibe with how officers already handle most domestic violence cases, while providing assurance that “we always protect victims and ensure they’re not in fear of reporting.”
Davis contends that the community is better off if people who, for example, have a small amount of drugs or a warrant for unpaid fines, are not scared to report violence.
“This is about putting the right people in jail,” he said.
Victims of intimate partner violence report it to police only 58% of the time, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data.
There are many reasons victims are reluctant to call authorities, according to an American Civil Liberties Union survey of advocates, attorneys and other people who work with domestic violence survivors. That includes concerns that police don’t believe them or are biased and fear that their partner’s arrest might have negative economic consequences for the household.
One local advocate told the Journal last month her organization hears regularly from people who are arrested by APD or Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputies after reporting domestic violence.
Davis’ bill passed on a 6-2 vote following an animated discussion that veered into the city’s larger crime problem and who is to blame.
Brook Bassan, who joined Don Harris in opposing the legislation, challenged the necessity of such a policy since APD officers already have discretion. She said “victims don’t deserve to be victimized,” but raised concerns about telling police how to do their job.
“What I don’t agree with is the insane crime rates in our city and the continual outcry of our community not feeling safe, feeling completely left alone when really we’re out here trying; APD is trying, but now we’re going to say ‘Here’s another reason, APD, you shouldn’t be able to follow through on a job,'” Bassan said.
But Lan Sena – who supported the bill with Davis, Cynthia Borrego, Diane Gibson, Trudy Jones and Klarissa Peña – said domestic violence victims are sometimes forced into criminal activity, such as prostitution or drugs, by their abusers.
“We should not associate those survivors being the ones driving crime in our city,” Sena said.
The bill now heads to Mayor Tim Keller, who said Monday in a statement that “making sure victims of domestic violence can report crimes is an important step for public safety.”