Editorial: Keller best of field - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Keller best of field

Tim Keller

Albuquerque is in the midst of a surge of violent crime and it’s of no solace whatsoever to the families of homicide victims or anyone else to say shootings are up across the country. Bullets are flying and the city has broken its annual homicide record twice during Mayor Tim Keller’s first term, including again this year.

Crime victims are waiting hours or longer for an officer to show up. A group of four senior female shopkeepers held a shoplifter for two hours waiting for police until the suspect woke up, broke out their glass door and fled with stolen goods. Some members of the public aren’t waiting at all. Two retail employees took matters into their own hands just last month, fatally shooting suspects in two separate armed robberies.

People living on the streets are on the rise. Drug use and dealing occur in broad daylight.

None of that is the stuff of TV commercials or campaign mailers for an incumbent mayor, but those are the realities for Mayor Keller heading into the Nov. 2 election against Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and radio talk show host Eddy Aragon.

And the reality for Albuquerque voters is their choice of candidates consists of a radio talk show host with little to no management experience, a sheriff who talks tough about protecting the public but who’s displayed a complete disregard for the public’s right to know and Keller, the incumbent, who steered the city through the pandemic and has started some initiatives to fight crime and homelessness that have promise.

Keller acknowledges he has learned a lot, and plans to build on that.

“I’m 10 times the mayor going forward than I was when they elected me to take this job in the first place because of what I’ve learned and what we’ve been through,” he says.

The Journal Editorial Board endorses Tim Keller for mayor as he is the most qualified candidate for the job.

Keller inherited a tough situation after the U.S. Department of Justice hammered the Albuquerque Police Department in 2014 for a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force.”

Seven years and more than $26 million into the DOJ monitoring process, Keller understands APD officers are tied up for hours on investigations for even minor uses of force. Keller told the Journal Editorial Board court-appointed independent monitor Dr. James Ginger has gone well beyond oversight and is “straight-up dictating what’s up at APD.” It’s hard to argue otherwise. Ginger has become the weekend guest who never leaves. “I know we’re going to be in a much better position if I’m mayor than if there’s another mayor because of what I’ve learned through the process,” Keller told the Journal recently.

Keller’s creation of an Internal Affairs Department staffed by civilians rather than police officers was smart, as was creating the position of superintendent of police reform to handle the Internal Affairs division, discipline, the DOJ reform effort and the police academy. Having all that formerly under the police chief’s umbrella was a recipe for internal conflicts.

To his credit, Keller never got caught up in the “defund the police” movement, instead increasing APD’s budget.

And his proposal last year to create an Albuquerque Community Safety Department — intended to remove at least 10,000 calls per year from the police realm — was also a good idea. The new department is just now getting off the ground with social workers and trained professionals, rather than armed officers, responding to 911 calls related to homelessness, behavioral health and addiction. The purpose is to avoid situations of escalation and to help those in crisis. It’s an idea worth pursuing given the frequent backlog of calls for service. On a Sunday evening in early June, an APD dispatch supervisor sent an urgent message to the only lieutenant on duty: No officers were available to respond to calls in the city. That mustn’t occur again and the Community Safety Department can help ensure it doesn’t.

Keller has also been persistent in his pursuit of a 24-7 homeless shelter as an alternative to the emergency room or jail. The city has made tangible progress toward opening Gateway Center by acquiring the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson to shelter up to 100 individuals and 25 families and make on-site services available. Keller’s opponents have made it clear they would not keep the ball rolling on the Gateway Center if they’re elected. The city’s purchase of the 572,000-square-foot former Lovelace hospital for $15 million was the largest investment in homelessness in the city’s history. It would be a shame to squander the opportunity, and basically start from scratch under a different administration.

Keller kept the city running in the darkest days of the pandemic when everything could have come to a screeching halt. The city used its workforce to mount a considerable senior meal pickup/delivery operation, establish child care options for essential workers, keep buses running and maintain Planning Department operations to ensure continued construction activity.

There is no denying that Keller loves the spotlight, sometimes holding multiple news conferences and photo ops a week. And there is no denying that — nearly four years into his first term — the city faces crises on multiple fronts.

So we accompany our endorsement with an appeal that, if elected, Keller get the Gateway Center going while adopting a more aggressive approach to tackling the homeless issue, redeploy resources to cut 911 response times (so our senior citizens don’t have to play Dirty Harry) and follow through on recent promises to support legislative changes that would keep more repeat violent suspects in custody prior to trial. We also urge him to do his homework and due diligence on grand ideas like the stadium before asking for voter support.

That’s quite a to-do list. Keller will need to hit the ground running to tackle these and other pressing issues to move Albuquerque toward a brighter future.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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