Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Responders from a new city department – billed as another option to be dispatched instead of the police and fire departments – hit the streets a little over a month ago and are going to an average of nine calls a day involving mental health, homelessness, substance abuse and other public health issues, according to a spokesman.
In the department’s first month, Albuquerque Community Safety responders have successfully responded to 212 calls for service, spokesman Joshua Reeves wrote in a news release. He said about half have resulted in “resources being offered, direct services being provided, or a transport.”
“A call involving ‘resources’ means that ACS helped connect someone to services such as case management, shelter services, a medical provider, or help with employment or financial assistance,” Reeves wrote. “Responders also proactively aid individuals they see in need as they drive through the community, resulting in a self-dispatch. ACS Responders self-dispatched 54 times in September.”
A little over half – 23 of 41 – field staff positions have been filled, and the city is still recruiting for behavioral health responder and community responder positions.
“Our team has quickly built a revolutionary department that is, according to our data, helping those who need it,” said ACS Director Mariela Ruiz-Angel. “Working with our city partners we’re helping police officers to focus on addressing violent crime calls and our EMTs to quickly respond to urgent, life-threatening situations, and providing the right response at the right time.”
Mayor Tim Keller announced the formation of the department in June 2020 amid calls for social justice and change to policing in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. It does not take funding away from the Albuquerque Police Department or Albuquerque Fire Rescue.
“Over the past year, our incredible team has brought this first-of-its-kind department to life, starting with an innovative idea and pushing all the way to training first responders and taking its first calls,” Keller said in a news release Wednesday. “With each call that trained behavioral health and community responders take, we are strengthening our entire public safety system. We are relieving pressure on police and fire, allowing officers to focus on violent crime and our EMTs to focus on urgent life-threatening situations. And we’re finally finding better ways to help connect people struggling with behavioral health, homelessness, and addiction access to trauma-informed services to make a difference in their lives.”
Reeves said the types of calls being handled by ACS used to “pile up in police officers’ queues,” resulting in a long wait time for those who need less-urgent help. In contrast, ACS personnel arrive in an average of just over 14 minutes, he said.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina applauded the change as a way to free up officers so they can respond to high-priority calls.
“This third branch of public safety bridges a gap and provides residents with the response they deserve,” Medina said.