A thousand attendees gathered recently for the first in-person State of the City event in two years at the renovated Rail Yards, our “industrial cathedral,” which re-opened the Boiler Room doors to the public for the first time in 44 years. The site provided a powerful setting for this important community discussion, and is a place we hope will soon be home to a new film training school in partnership with Central New Mexico Community College and the state.
Throughout the year, we saw Albuquerque’s classic vibrancy back at festivals, sports games and, of course, the State of the City. But decades-old challenges are back with a vengeance, too. Crime, homelessness, addiction – exacerbated by the pandemic and without simple solutions. As mayor during this time, my job has sometimes felt like fending off a constant stream of crises. Make no mistake, we’ve been through some dark days. Yet, through all this, we see a city holding the line during one of the most difficult periods in our history. A city that has not, and will not, stop advancing toward a horizon that brings out the best in Burque.
In the midst of adversity, we see the hard work of so many to tame these challenges with trademark spirit and determination. When wildfires swept the north, our team took care of over 1,000 evacuees with shelter, food and supplies. We boosted APD’s investigative capacity to take bold action to stem the tide of addiction and homelessness. And our team has landed major new employers in growing industries, seen fantastic job growth, completed such transformative projects as the two new community centers and a new library on Central, and built new educational partnerships to prepare our youth for careers right here. Today, our city is emerging from the depths of the pandemic clear about the challenges we face, but also knowing what’s on the horizon beyond them.
I encourage you to watch the address at cabq.gov/sotc to hear from city leaders about our work on economic development, public safety, homelessness, sustainability and more. Here, I want to focus on what are certainly the greatest challenges ahead: crime and homelessness.
At the Albuquerque Police Department, we made choices that kept our city from falling into the abyss. First, we convened leaders at every level of the criminal justice system, and asked them to join us in acknowledging and taking responsibility for a broken system that all too often lets perpetrators of violent crime return to the streets, lets our judiciary go woefully underpaid and understaffed, hinders the arrest of felons with assault weapons. Then, we made historic investments in modern crime-fighting technology that are producing results. This year, APD has charged a record 65 homicide suspects, taken 295 firearms off the streets and made more than 1,800 felony arrests, using new technology to close hundreds of cases.
Third, we took control of a Department of Justice reform process that was backsliding. For years, our city was stuck, officers buried under bureaucracy and weighed down by low morale. Now, we are committed to reform at a much faster pace and are nearing completion in every category of the monitoring process. In June, my administration moved to suspend monitoring in a quarter of DOJ’s categories, allowing more officers to get out from under administrative work and back into the field. This the greatest progress our city has seen in the court-ordered settlement since it began in 2014.
Today, cities around America are looking to us for leadership because of our work to blend 911 response and social workers with coordinated outreach. Our new Community Safety Department is now taking hundreds of calls answered by these new first responders, freeing up our officers to fight crime and our EMTs to focus on emergencies.
We also see the proliferation of tents, such as the situation at Coronado Park, and a 30% rise in homelessness all over the country. Like so many, I wish there was a simple answer here. The only real answer is to take an “all-of-the-above approach.” We have to be agile, learn and keep creating pathways to stability. That is why we are revisiting our approach to encampments. We will continue our historic investments to build housing and expand rental assistance programs that have gotten thousands of people into homes. And, as city crews continue to clear dozens of encampments a month, they will prioritize and promptly clear encampments from our sidewalks and near spaces with children’s programming. APD will continue to enforce the law, citing trespassers, and arresting traffickers and felons, but they will not violate constitutional rights.
Our authority on this issue is also limited. Our partners on the City Council have supported critical investments to address homelessness, but we need more than funds; we need new tools. We need zoning approval to open the Gateway Shelter, a cornerstone of the work ahead to move people off the street, and for every solution in between. We can make a difference together; we need action now.
In the year ahead, we will again ask our community to look at new solutions with open minds and a willingness to jump into the work. That’s how we take each step forward and how we will reach Albuquerque’s brighter horizon.