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Vote on Armed APS Force Rests With Board Leader

By Andrea Schoellkopf
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque school board president Paula Maes appears to be the deciding vote on whether to create a stand-alone and fully armed school police department.
    "I swear to God I don't know what I'm going to do," Maes said in a telephone interview Friday from Los Angeles. "Fundamentally, I'm not a gun person."
    The rest of the board is evenly split, 3-3 down east-west geographic lines, on whether to adopt a community safety commission's recommendation to create a fully certified, stand-alone police force.
    The recommendation also requests higher pay, better equipment and approval for certified officers to carry guns on all shifts.
    APS has estimated it would take nearly $2 million to upgrade its force to law enforcement standards, including the cost of police vehicles and increased salaries that are competitive with other agencies.
    The board, which had voted against the recommendation 4-2 during a policy committee meeting two weeks ago— prompting a "blue flu" sick-out by police officers the next day— is scheduled to take a final vote on the issue Wednesday.
    Board members Mary Lee Martin, Marty Esquivel and Gordon Rowe— who represent the east side of Albuquerque— have said they will support the commission's recommendation.
    Rowe, who was elected to the board after its controversial 2001 vote, had never publicly taken a side on the issue.
    He said Friday he will support a certified department and arming the qualified officers 24/7.
    One reason for backing the recommendation, supporters say, is that a full police department would be eligible for grants. Also, it could use the city's evidence room and officer training programs.
    Berna Facio and Dolores Griego side with board member Robert Lucero— all live west of Interstate 25— in not wanting a stand-alone department with armed officers.
    Lucero argues that it isn't legal for APS to have one and says that city and county law enforcement agencies should take over the district's police duties.
    APS has asked the state Attorney General's Office to determine whether the district can have its own police department or whether state legislation would be needed.
    Facio and Griego don't want any more guns on campus, period.
    They have been critical of the commission process, saying they weren't aware that the board's policy for arming police was also being reconsidered and that the commission weighed heavily with members who supported changing the policy.
    "All these issues, and they all got lumped into one pot of stew," Griego said during an Aug. 24 meeting. "I didn't like that. It seemed underhanded."
    During that same meeting, Facio said she thought it was more likely for a student to be shot by a police officer than during a mass-killing incident like those that occurred at Columbine High School or Virginia Tech.
    "I just shudder to think of a trigger-happy cop and a kid with a pen or a" comb, said Facio, who later said that her comments during the meeting were "off the record."
    During a board policy-committee meeting two weeks ago, Maes introduced a somewhat confusing motion that essentially would have kept the department at status quo while working toward the recommendations of the safety commission. She later claimed her motion was misunderstood.
    At present, the APS police force is officially a 110-employee security department, with 32 certified officers who have authority to make arrests and write reports through the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office.
    APS policy prohibits those officers from carrying guns during school hours. They may only remove them from their police vehicles in emergencies with the permission of the superintendent.
    However, APS could change its policy and allow them to carry guns without creating a full-fledged police department. That proposal is not part of the recommendation.