After Mayor Tim Keller gave his State of the City address in 2022, then-City Council Vice President Dan Lewis said the mayor “doesn’t seem to know what city he is living in” as the administration had failed on crime and homelessness in spite of big budgets.
In this year’s State of the City address, this past Saturday at the Rail Yards, the mayor offered three concrete actions to address gun crime, homeless encampments and panhandling that puts pedestrians and motorists in danger. All sound promising but need to go further than the mayor outlined. And the key will be follow through and monitoring whether there is sufficient success – or not.
Keller told the several hundred gathered “this summer we are cracking down on guns. You commit a crime, any crime, in Downtown Albuquerque and we will pursue federal gun charges and get you off the street.”
Punishment for federal crimes is usually harsher, which we hope would serve as a greater deterrent. But why just Downtown Albuquerque and school areas? The sad fact is crimes committed with firearms, including homicides, are occurring in every quadrant of the city.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina confirmed APD will work with federal prosecutors to target gun violence in the Downtown area. On one hand, good, on the other, that’s a big signal to criminals to take their business to other neighborhoods. Medina said APD plans to announce more details in coming weeks; we would ask those details include zero tolerance for gun crimes in all parts of Albuquerque – because every resident pays taxes that fund the police department and deserves to not only feel, but to be, safe.
In August, Keller’s administration closed Coronado Park, home to one of the city’s largest and most visible unsanctioned homeless encampments and a site the mayor described as the most dangerous place in the state.
Nine months later, Keller told those at the Rail Yards “going forward, we will not allow tent cities in Albuquerque. We cannot allow large encampments to grow unchecked. They become hot-spots for illegal activity, hazardous to public health and safety for our community.”
Again, good – but what constitutes a “large encampment” or “tent city”? Will a small group with all the drug paraphernalia be ignored in the alleys behind homes on Central Avenue? In the arroyos in the Northeast Heights and Northwest mesa? In our parks and behind our shopping centers?
Without question disbanding and cleaning up after these encampments is labor intensive. But the city and nonprofit providers routinely have unoccupied shelter beds – and the status quo of crime and drug and human trafficking is dangerous, filthy and intolerable.
As an apparent solution to a years-long battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, APD has identified 13 narrow medians – less than 4-feet wide – where it will enforce bans on panhandlers, Medina said. Keller said the “median-safety measures” will “protect our most dangerous road(s), both for pedestrians and drivers.”
Once more, that’s a good start. But there are panhandlers on many more than 13 medians, weaving in and out of high-speed traffic and causing near-misses, fender-benders and worse. Like breaking up encampments, moving people out of the roadways is a labor-intensive effort, but taxpayers are funding APD public service aides as well as a whole new Community Safety department tasked with responding “to 911 calls for mental health, substance use, and homelessness,” according to the city website.
As with the gun crime proposal, targeting a narrow area encourages those who would put themselves and drivers in danger to simply move to another median.
Keller told the crowd this year “the promise of Albuquerque is on its way to being realized.” How these three proposals are implemented, expanded and tracked will show if that realization truly happens.
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.