APD Chief Harold Medina has issued written orders to all APD officers on how to deal with unlawful homeless encampments found at city parks. Police are ordered “not to attempt enforcement of littering, trespassing, obstruction of sidewalk” and laws and ordinances unless the Family Community Services Department requests such enforcement and only after FCS department personnel determine the homeless camper is continuing to trespass after being given a 72-hour “notice to vacate.”
Medina’s special order is an abuse of power. Mayor Tim Keller and Medina are picking and choosing what laws are to be enforced against the homeless when it comes to city parks. It eviscerates sworn police officers’ authority to enforce the laws by removing their discretionary authority when it comes to the homeless who camp in city parks.
Unlawful encampments at city parks demand immediate orders to vacate to protect the public that use the parks. It is unacceptable to give the homeless 72 hours written “notices to vacate” to clear a public park of their personal property. It will create a “no man’s land” like Coronado Park in all 288 city parks. The general public has the right to demand and expect the peaceful use and enjoyment of all parks in a safe manner, especially where there are playgrounds and children, without occupancy by homeless campers.
The city claims the only time it can immediately clear out a camp is if it is putting the campers or community members in danger. That is not true. The city can rely on its nuisance abatement laws and declare encampments on city property nuisances.
Keller can use the inherent authority of his office and issue executive orders to clean up and remove unlawful encampments. Ostensibly Keller is reluctant to do just that out of fear of being accused of being insensitive to the plight of the homeless as his administration spent $40 million in 2022 and will spend $60 million in 2023 to provide assistance to the homeless.
Being homeless is not a crime, but that does not mean they should be allowed to violate the law. APD must not ignore enforcing the city’s anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance abatement laws and criminal laws, nor pretend they do not exist to accommodate the homeless.
The city does offer options. The city has the West Side 24-7 homeless shelter that can be offered where the homeless can go and camp. Another option is the new Gibson Gateway Center. The city also has on contract up to 10 service providers that need to do more.
If Keller and Medina do not want law enforcement involved with enforcing the laws when it comes to the homeless, then APD should not be dispatched to deal with the homeless. That responsibility should be assumed 100% by the Albuquerque Community Safety Department, which should issue immediate orders to vacate any unlawful encampment.
Unlawful encampment homeless squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers from the city or alternatives to living on the street and want to camp at city parks really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” and force them to move on or be arrested by APD.