In its quest to criticize our efforts to make Downtown safe, the Journal should at least talk to those of us who asked for new ideas and worked with the city and APD to target finite resources toward crime-fighting. Public safety is the most high-stakes matter we deal with, and it should be treated as such by the city’s leading paper. Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina listened to us. Now, business leaders are once again joining to support a solution to a problem that affects us all. The June 28 editorial criticizing TEAM, Targeted Enforcement and Active Monitoring, undermines efforts to make Downtown a safer and more vibrant space.
The goal of this new police overtime program is to more effectively supplement crime-fighting efforts. Downtown needs a larger law enforcement presence during peak hours; this is not news. APD manages officers between six area commands and has already put in place additional patrols and dedicated officers to Downtown. That’s a huge help for us. The entire purpose of TEAM for us and the entire community is to do more because we want to do more. Some Downtown business owners hire private security for their shops and venues – that’s great, but it’s too expensive for many and there’s a big difference between a security guard protecting your venue and a trained officer protecting the entire area.
TEAM allows us to pool resources and enables officers to choose to help Downtown after their regular shifts are complete, rather than going off duty. Unlike security guards, these officers can make arrests and are highly trained to manage the variety of incidents one might see on a Saturday night. Today, a group of companies and organizations that care about our Downtown have put $90,000 in to launch the program. As this program starts, it’s Downtown stakeholders with considerable resources like PNM and owners of multiple properties that came together to create the fund, not the smaller storefronts. Of course we want as many Downtown stakeholders participating as possible as we move forward, and indeed more have already pledged to join. But to be clear, nobody is required to contribute; the benefit will still be there. The officers participating in TEAM will not guard individual businesses, they will enforce laws Downtown during peak hours.
This concept is nothing new. We already did this Downtown. Years ago, businesses came together to set up a fund to do something very similar. And cities like San Antonio, Dallas, Atlanta and D.C. do the same thing. It’s also not a new concept for APD. For years the “chief’s overtime” program has allowed APD officers to guard big-box stores at the stores’ expense.
TEAM reconfigures this program in a much more reasonable way. The security firms guarding the big-box stores will now use their own personnel for the job and APD’s trained officers will go where there is a greater need and greater public purpose: Downtown. Local businesses, event planners and neighborhoods around the city also use the overtime program and still will.
The “bidding war” the editorial speculates about would never happen. These costs are set, and the groups that use the overtime program are in contact with APD about hours available.
Lastly, we read the Journal daily and respect it as a reasonable voice of the city. But when it comes to public safety, it should be much more careful. These programs fundamentally involve our police officers, our livelihoods, and the personal safety of thousands who work, live and visit Downtown. Flippant references to the “mob” and grossly misleading conjecture, without any attempt to contact businesses involved or the city … do not serve the public interest and should be well beneath the professional standards of the Editorial Board.