Editorial: ABQ’s Downtown police OT scheme like TV mob plot - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: ABQ’s Downtown police OT scheme like TV mob plot

It sounds a lot like a deal they can’t refuse: Pay police a little extra and they’ll protect your Downtown business. If it sounds somewhat shady, that’s because it’s the stuff of gangster movies and TV shows.

Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Department leaders announced the scheme last week that involves businesses paying “chief’s overtime” to have officers stationed Downtown at night. Called “Targeted Enforcement Action Monitoring” it is set to begin July 4.

“Now I want to mention not all of the businesses are supporting this,” the mayor said during a Downtown news conference last week. “We want them to; we need them to.”

When questioned why private businesses should pay for extra police presence instead of the city, Police Chief Harold Medina said the city has to make choices: “This is a way for people to fund Downtown, specifically, and not us devoting all our resources and money to just one specific part of town.”

Stuart Dunlap, president and CEO of The Man’s Hat Shop, told KOAT-TV he already pays taxes for police protection.

“Businesses pay property taxes,” Dunlap said. “We pay business tax when you buy a business license. I don’t think that that’s the correct answer. Additional monies com(ing) from business owners Downtown is completely out of line.”

“For us to have to pay the government to protect us, I just don’t think it’s right,” added Jessica Zubia of Katrina’s Ice Cream Shop.

Never mind the city is experiencing a revenue boom. The city’s 2022-23 budget of $1.4 billion is about $200 million more than the current budget.

Or the city’s $857 million operating budget, which is supposed to cover most basic city services, will increase by about 20%. The bulging budget includes funding for a new police union contract that recently boosted police pay by 8% and will bump it another 5% in July.

Or APD’s $255.4 million budget funds 1,100 sworn police officers when it has just 888. Why not use that unspent money if the brass think more overtime is a good idea?

Never mind the city budget doubles spending on Albuquerque Community Safety and funds 74 new positions for the fledgling unit to take calls related to public inebriation and homelessness.

Or the COVID-19 pandemic has caused about 40% of small businesses to close, taking a heavy toll on Albuquerque’s Downtown. And patrons of Downtown businesses will be the ultimate losers when the cost of a hot dog hits $10 and a beer goes for $15.

At its core, it is just wrong to shake down businesses for police protection.

Keller says Downtown businesses must take control of their own future. That attitude ignores government’s, in this case the city’s, basic responsibility to maintain law and order and will have a chilling effect on new businesses locating Downtown.

Keller also says the Downtown officers — and they are not extra officers, as they are coming from the same limited pool of trained, sworn law enforcement professionals — will be able to focus on things like illegal firearms and fights in parking lots when the bars close. But that type of “chief’s overtime” — for which the city in December 2020 received between $57 and $72 an hour for each shift — is a lot more high stress than simply managing traffic after a large church service or athletics event. It adds the risk of burning our officers out even faster.

Focusing “chief’s overtime” on officers working extra hours Downtown also means they aren’t available for OT in other neighborhoods in an endless game of Whac-A-Mole. What happens if, say, the Winrock/ABQ Uptown area offers to pay more? Only those who pay get police presence?

The bottom line is APD needs to recruit and hire more officers so it can perform the basic functions it’s more than adequately funded to do.

Downtown has to be saved, but Keller and Medina need to come up with something better than pulling a scheme from a mob script and sticking businesses with the bill.

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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