Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Don’t make people enter the criminal legal system to access services

To promote its new Metro Crime Initiative, Mayor Tim Keller’s administration claims they are finding ways to better provide assistance to citizens in need. But in reality, Keller is setting up a system where people enter the criminal legal system in order to get access to mental health care, treatment for addiction and affordable housing. It is horrifying to think that leaders in Albuquerque are proposing a solution to our community crises that promotes incarceration and more policing. 

If our community is supported before being incarcerated, families would stay together and have the necessities to prosper. Once people enter the criminal legal system, they are separated from their families and systematically discriminated against in any attempt to find housing, employment or assistance — even if they are not convicted of a crime. 

What does the recent Metropolitan Crime Initiative (MCI) introduced by the Keller administration mean for our community’s safety, well-being, and health? From 1992 to 2016, the Albuquerque Police Department budget increased 72%, according to defundthepolice.org. This increased spending has not increased our sense of safety overall. The City of Albuquerque will spend over $226.7 million on policing for the current fiscal year. APD eats up 31% of the city budget. 

Within this department are Housed Addiction programs ($3 million), Mental Health ($4 million), Homeless Services ($3 million), and Affordable Housing ($7 million). This spending totals only 7% of the police budget. 

All three of our mayoral candidates were pushing this same failed agenda that has fed mass incarceration and police brutality. APD is one of the most violent police departments in the country, ranked No. 2 in the U.S.  for its rate of police killings, according to an article in The Guardian from May 2021. Throwing more money and more reforms at the department over decades has not reduced the violence perpetuated by APD.

Increased funding for the police creates more incarceration, family separations and violence towards our community, while further underfunding affordable housing, mental health services, green infrastructure and our community centers. 

When a community’s needs are met, violent crime decreases. Community needs are not met with further police presence, surveillance and militarization. The MCI does mention that there will be funding allocated to rebuild our behavioral health system, but how much? 

If police department funding has not decreased violence in Albuquerque, then the money should be allocated completely to the beneficial community assistance programs mentioned in the initiative. These programs are far down on the list of improvements that MCI plans to make, and connecting our city’s behavioral health programs to our police department is unreasonable. 

The police department already receives so much funding that to put our city’s behavioral health needs on the same budget is not very transparent. Why are these budgets connected? Why must the police receive more money for these programs to also be included? The proposed MCI budget doesn’t adequately state who will be getting what amounts of funding. Even the new Albuquerque Community Safety Responders might not be enough if they are not receiving the adequate funding they need to be successful.

As someone who has spent years existing within the court system, I can say that any help I gained from my time was from the community that surrounded me, not the state that imprisoned me. 

While the MCI does propose to assist people with pre-arrest services, officials have also stated that they feel they will be able to help people access resources more easily once they are in the court system

There are ways to help the people of Albuquerque before they have to suffer through our court system. Restorative justice programs and other diversion programs can happen without being associated with an increase to police coffers. If the APD money were not increased so dramatically, these programs could receive funding that would actually be beneficial to their success. 

When will we see that the numbers don’t add up and giving police more money doesn’t equate to our safety? Many cities have reported that as their police force increases, crime rates do not decrease. It is important for the Keller administration to think about what Albuquerque wants, and how the citizens of Albuquerque want to solve our community shortcomings as opposed to just giving more money to a seemingly easy solution. 

More money for APD means less money for the programs that can actually assist Burqueños. If the Keller administration were to take a closer look at the allocation of an already bloated budget, officials would see that these non-police-based community projects could help to drop crime rates more than increased police funding could. 

The neighborhoods of Albuquerque care more about their inhabitants than APD ever will. The money thrown at the feet of APD has the potential to do good on the ground here for the people that need it most.

To divest in APD means divesting from the fear and violence officers elicit, and from the cycle of death and incarceration that is APD’s shadow. To invest in Albuquerque means investing in the support that can help our people to thrive.

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