With a mayoral election approaching, Albuquerque community members packed the 300-seat African American Performing Arts Center September 6th to hear candidates focus on crime, police reform and community policing. The forum was conducted using questions prepared by members of the public and the event’s sponsor, APD Forward.
“Where we are at today is not by accident,” said Tim Keller, a Democrat, the current New Mexico State Auditor and one of the leading candidates for mayor. The city’s recent spike in crime “is the reflection of choices that we made several years ago,” he said, referring to how APD is managed.
Keller blames the ‘fundamental basis (how) we run our police department” and it’s diversion away from community policing — a form of policing that works closely to build trust with citizens, neighborhoods and community groups.
Gus Pedrotty, a Spring 2017 University of New Mexico graduate, emphasized tackling the underlying causes of crime. “As a city we have to complement services,” he said, to support the community and officers by providing clinical programs that specialize in addressing mental health issues so officers don’t have to be “behavioral health professionals” in the field.
Pedrotty decried the “adversarial dialogue” between APD and Albuquerque’s public — and implicated the department’s track record for excessive use of force.
In 2014, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found APD showed a pattern of excessive use of force. The city agreed to a court-monitored police reform plan that is still ongoing.
“The spike in crime is related to several issues” said Brian Colón, local attorney and former chairman of the state’s Democratic party. “It’s a lack of resources, for behavioral health issues, mental issues. Drug addiction, reintegration programs. We continue to put people in the bad circumstances before they were a first offender.”
“We will build the most trusted and respected police department in the country,” said Dan Lewis, a Republican, business executive and current Albuquerque City Councilor. “We’ll do neighborhood policing where officers will be known as peacekeepers and not enforcers,” Lewis said.
“We will make this the worst place to be a criminal,’’ Lewis promised.
Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, co-founder of Urban ABQ said “Community policing brings about the possibility of bringing back trust” between police, business owners, residents and city government.
Many questions dealt with the DOJ agreement and police reforms. Topics included greater government accountability, lapel camera use by officers and whether current APD Chief of Police Gordon Eden should be replaced. (All candidates agreed he should.)
Forum sponsor APD Forward is a community coalition pressing for follow-through of police reforms.
A mayoral debate will be held September 21st at the Canyon Club at Four Hills from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Early voting for the mayoral election began September 13th. Election day is Tuesday, October 3rd. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, then the top two candidates will hold a run off election in November. The new mayor takes office December 1st, replacing Albuquerque’s current mayor, Richard Berry.
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