District 4 City Councilor Brook Bassan quashed the misinformation circulating on social media that a dirt lot south of North Domingo Baca Park was being proposed as a safe outdoor space for the homeless.
“I can guarantee you it was never going to happen near residential properties, like businesses here in Albuquerque that are nearby in our community right here, and certainly not south of North Domingo Baca Park. It was never, ever a proposal. So, thank you NextDoor,” Bassan said to a crowd of over 100 people inside the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center on Thursday.
The meeting was originally scheduled to discuss shoplifting at the Whole Foods on Wyoming and Academy, but quickly morphed into a debate over safe outdoor spaces after misinformation was shared on NextDoor. About a dozen people left the meeting when they learned it was about shoplifting and not safe outdoor spaces.
Throughout the two-hour meeting both Albuquerque Police Department’s Northeast Area Commander Greg Weber and Bassan continued to answer questions about safe outdoor spaces. “If we can get to somewhere where we can say this area, you’re good to set up a tent. This area over here is also public domain, you’re not okay to set up,” Weber said. “That’s what the city has to get to.”
Bassan and Weber both suggested safe outdoor spaces can help address crime problems in Albuquerque, but several attendees disagreed. Despite the subject being brought up time and again, Weber continued to discuss what APD is doing to keep criminals off the streets.
Several attendees voiced their concerns about brazen shoplifters who are not deterred when employees cannot stop them. One woman said she witnessed a person walk out a store without paying. “I saw it and I was paying for my goods, and asked and she said ‘no, we’ll be fired if we stop them’.”
Another concern is the lack of a police response. Weber admitted short staffing and the department’s focus on more violent or life-threatening calls can delay response times, but it is still important to report shoplifting, no matter how minor.
“A lot of times what we find is even if the dollar amount is not enough for us to put somebody into jail, we can always stop and detain them because we can issue a citation,” Weber said. “When we detain those people, we often find that they have warrants, they have narcotics and other things, and the directive I’ve given to my people is, whatever you can arrest them on, you will arrest them if they have stuff on them. Because I, like you, am fed up with it.”
Weber said APD only had two calls for service in the last 90 days at the Whole Foods where the shoplifting took place that led to one community member organizing the meeting. Weber agreed that shoplifting is underreported but APD is being proactive in tracking down serial and organized shoplifters. One tactic is for APD officers to stay in communication with businesses using tools like Zello, an app that works like a walkie talkie.
“They communicate with the store’s loss prevention directly and we get intel, ‘Hey, so and so is here and they stole from us yesterday,’ and we get a lot of good intel that way,” Weber said. In addition, if the store can verify a shoplifter stole several thousand dollars worth of items, officers can work with the organized crime unit and Attorney General’s office to build a case against them.
According to Weber, the Northeast Area Command gets anywhere between 7,500-9,000 calls a month. “So obviously we have to prioritize what comes in because I have more calls most of the time than I have people. That is the reality,” Weber said.
Despite being short-staffed, Weber said APD is actively recruiting and offers a great benefit package that often surprises officers from other states. One gentleman, who identified himself as a former police officer from Houston, said APD cannot do their job because of the restrictions placed on them by the Department of Justice’s settlement agreement with the city. The agreement requires federal oversight of APD’s use of force policy and reform efforts after the 2014 fatal shooting of homeless camper James Boyd.
“Has there been any talk about the fact that the DOJ mandates are keeping you from doing your job?” the former officer asked. “Because frankly you cannot do your job.” He said it took APD officers over 45 minutes to figure out what to do with a person on his neighbor’s porch who was intoxicated and in her underwear.
“I will tell you, in about ten minutes she would’ve been in the back of my car going to the county jail. You can’t do your job,” he said. “Has there been any talk about this DOJ mandate being lifted, being amended? Because it’s my understanding that you have 60 plus officers in an internal affairs type capacity that are not being utilized on the streets.”
Weber agreed the DOJ mandate makes it difficult to operate an efficient police force, but reminded attendees he is still obliged to follow the law. “I will tell you that the requirements of the reform, I am number one very much in support,” Weber said. “I have always been supportive of the United States Constitution. And I do believe that people’s rights need to be respected.”
Bassan said the city council is working to alleviate some of the restrictions placed on APD because of the madates but that it will take time. “I do believe the DOJ consent decree came here for a purpose, but APD has followed suit. We are compliant in two out of three categories, and we have been for some time,” Bassan said, adding that APD should be able to cut back on the use of internal affairs if the department is following two-thirds of the mandate. She said the required paperwork is a burden on the department. “And that is problematic when it comes to fighting crime and responding quickly,” she said.
Several attendees asked what they can do to help fight crime. Both Weber and APD crime prevention officer Angie Casias said it is important to be involved in neighborhood activities. They recommend getting to know neighbors’ names and having their contact information, joining a neighborhood watch, and becoming a block leader.
Daniel Martinez, president of the Heritage East Association of Residents, agrees it is important to be involved in neighborhood activities. “Reach out to your neighbors. Have lunch with them. Have dinner with them Go for walks. Go for walks around the neighborhood. Pick up trash. Have trash crews. Donate to your association of residents,” Martinez said. “We’re trying to get more eyes on the street. We want to be able to communicate.”
Vice President for the North Domingo Baca Neighborhood Association Anthony Richardson said it is important to keep neighborhoods clean, to have neighborhood watch signs installed, and to work with offenders to help provide restitution to victims. He added that there are many creative ways communities can raise money for different causes.
Martinez also urged residents to be problem solvers and not to wait for other people to provide the answers. “Make your voice heard. That’s the way it’s going to happen,” Martinez said. “Be solution-oriented.”
Safe outdoor spaces
After hearing several concerns about proposed sites for safe outdoor spaces, Bassan scheduled a June 27 meeting at the NDB Multigenerational Center to discuss the topic. That meeting will be from 6:30-8 p.m.
“What I can tell you is in the two weeks it’s going to take for us to get to this meeting, there are not going to be any safe outdoor spaces put anywhere,” Bassan said. “So I will be shocked if we get even one anywhere in Albuquerque that is the earliest in one year.”