In March 2022, the Neighborhood Journal spoke with District 4 City Councilor Brook Bassan about the issues most important to her and her constituents. The three issues that were brought up the most were crime, homelessness and the proposed North Domingo Baca Aquatic Center. On Dec. 31, Bassan discussed those issues and the progress she’s made in addressing crime and homelessness since March. The following question-and-answer session provides details about what is in store for District 4 in 2023. A separate story on the North Domingo Baca Aquatic Center will be published later in the week, but Bassan did said she predicts the city will break ground on the project sometime this year.
The following Q&A is a transcription from a Dec. 31 phone interview and is edited for length and clarity.
The three topics you said had been brought up the most were crime, homelessness and the North Domingo Baca swimming pool:
As far as homelessness, that’s an easy one at this point because I thought I was coming up with an idea earlier in the year for living lots and supporting safe outdoor spaces, and the district made it clear they didn’t want that in addition to many, many others in Albuquerque. So, you know, I changed course on that. I’m still supporting getting the Gateway Center open — or the Gateway Health Hub, depending on what people call it — getting that opened up and operating so that we can help with medical respite and any kind of detox drug treatment, mental health treatment. So, I’m in support of that. I’m definitely wanting to see more happen this next year with that.
As far as homelessness, I think that we definitely need to make sure to enforce the existing laws we have — not permit people to be able to camp on sidewalks and in parks — and I think that APD and the city is doing a better job of doing that. I think that they are starting to change course a little bit and step up with that, and I think that is hopefully going to help mitigate some of the, what seems to be an escalation in those that are unhoused. But I think that we also need to make sure to help out when it comes to housing. The council did support a lot for affordable housing and housing vouchers in this last fiscal year budget, so I will continue to do what I can to support that and make sure that we leverage what we can in a multitude of ways. Sure, we can put a whole bunch of money to it, but if we’re not actually building the housing and it doesn’t exist, then it kind of is a chasing our tail kind of a thing. So, I would like to see us actually construct more affordable housing.
As far as crime, I think it’s no surprise to anyone that crime is very high here in Albuquerque, and I think that APD is doing a really good job of doing their best. I think that we need to continue to recruit as many officers as possible. We need to make sure to pay our officers well, and AFR. We need to make sure that the first responders on all levels are being compensated appropriately — that we have good retention plans. So I think that it’s something that I would like to see us do a little bit better. I think that when we’re talking about other law enforcement agencies nearby, some of them get paid quite a bit more than what Albuquerque pay is and I think that that is a significant deterrent to becoming an officer here. I definitely think that crime is not going down per se, but I think that we need to change the culture in Albuquerque and I’m looking forward to doing what I can to help us make sure that people do not feel immune to laws and that we start making sure that people understand that there’s consequences for poor behavior.
I was hoping you could kind of expand on the young adult shelter that is being planned, how you’re involved with that, where it stands at the moment and when we can expect to see it open:
I’m one of the cosponsors interested in making sure to help with that; however, I’ve definitely seen Councilor [Renee] Grout and Councilor [Tammy] Fiebelkorn taking a much stronger lead on it. I am in strong support of making sure we do something. Picking a location seems to be challenging right now even though some of us are not in agreement why it should be so hard. I do think that they’re looking at instead of calling that a youth shelter, just because of some of the stigma that comes with saying shelter, they’re looking at calling it dorms or finding a different term that would make it more of a community space where we assist youth that are ages 18-25. So, it wouldn’t be for youth — young, young people. It’s for the people that are kind of caught in the middle of being a child legally or being an older adult, and so I think that we definitely need to fill that gap. I’m looking forward to seeing some actual progress on that. There’s funding that’s come in from Congresswoman [Melanie] Stansbury, and then we matched some with some single funds last year as the council. I think that even though we can always use some more money towards it, I think that money is not the biggest obstacle this time, so I’m looking forward to seeing some progress on it.
Can you expand a little bit on what the plans are to convert some of the old motels into living spaces for the unsheltered?
I can’t really expand too much because that’s all on the administration and what their vision is. I know that there’s talk of it. I think that this is definitely one of the options that we can pick to be able to help with some kind of transitional housing. I don’t think it should be permanent. I think that some people that want somewhere to live that’s warm and safe off of the streets, this would be a great opportunity to make sure that they have that area in order to be a part of. I’m not opposed to these. I think that there are a lot of people that are and I think that it’s one of the things [where we ask], ‘Well do we want to get less people off of living on the streets and find a way to safely have a transitional housing approach for some until we can get more affordable housing built or identify your locations where we can help house more people?’ But I also think that people need to work, and people need to have some responsibility. This can’t just be a charity of sorts. This has to be something where it is a reciprocal relationship between the city and the people that are looking to live in any of these motels.
It seems like there’s been a lot of pushback on all types of different projects from the gateway project to the safe outdoor spaces, to the motel conversions, but people still want something to be done about homelessness. What do you think you personally can do to kind of overcome some of those obstacles to make progress and get things done and still take into consideration the desires of your constituents?
That’s a great question and I wish I had a firm answer but you know, again, I thought I had an option that we should try that would be an approach that we could take to see if we would make a difference and a dent in some of the housing problems that we have here in Albuquerque and the constituents spoke very clearly that this is not something they’re interested in. As soon as I changed course and made some changes with some of the legislation and my support that’s where people then follow up with, ‘OK well what else are you going to do?’ and it’s really not a question that I haven’t answered to because it’s what can we do? if people don’t want these converted motels, if they don’t want the Gateway Center and they don’t want safe outdoor spaces, I need to know what they do want and I will work to try to help with that. So, until then I think that we need to really strongly lean on the partnerships that we have with nonprofits and the experts in the field of treating behavioral health and drug addiction so that way we can make sure – I think that that’s the majority of people. There’s a lot of people living on the streets and living unhoused that have behavioral health needs and have drug addiction issues – and until we start treating that and having somewhere for people to go to not just have shelter but to actually fix the underlying issue and problem that is creating the environment where they don’t end up wanting to work, or they can’t work, or they can’t sustain some kind of you economic living so that they can have a house, we have to fix that in order to make sure that it doesn’t just continue in this redundant cycle.
I don’t think that there’s a panacea of a solution, but I do think that we really need to refocus on what we can do for more behavioral health treatment so that those people that have severe behavioral health needs can make sure they get their medication regularly and make sure that they’re with supervision to be safe. To make sure that they have the assistance and guidance that they need from professionals. The same thing with drug addiction. If people are going to be addicted to drugs and breaking into businesses and homes to feed a habit, what are we going to do about making sure that we minimize the access to illegal drugs and then also what can we do about mitigating some of the addiction for those people that are looking to sober up and get help to become more functional in society?
As far as the topic of crime goes, one of the biggest things I’ve seen from people living in District 4 is complaints of rampant shoplifting, brazen shoplifting. I know you’ve attended several community meetings and have met with APD and discussed all kinds of different approaches to tackling the problem, but I was hoping you can expand and let me know what progress has been made in that area and what can we expect to see next year in terms of how to tackle that problem specifically.
That is definitely a regular and increasing complaint that happens in District 4, but throughout the city and I’m really excited to be working with some of the state legislators. There’re some new bills that some of them are going to be proposing that change some of the limits for when a theft at a store becomes goes from being civil to being criminal. The state ended up changing it to where if you still steal less than $500 worth of merchandise from a store there’s nothing that anybody can really do about it. It’s just a civil misdemeanor and so people know that. They know that ‘okay well I’m just making sure to go in and just make sure I don’t steal past that limit,’ and that’s where I when I say we should change the culture in Albuquerque and start shifting the dynamic again I think that’s part of it. So working with the state legislators to change some of the laws here in New Mexico, which we have to abide by in Albuquerque will allow APD to actually go and arrest people for having shopping carts full of merchandise that don’t meet a certain limit. I think that that’s a big difference and then being able to enforce some of those laws. In addition to that, I think it also still goes back to we have to recruit more officers because APD is doing what they can and I think that they’re doing a good job and I think that they’re working very hard but you know we need to give them some more assistance because there is something to be said about strength in numbers and right now I think that it would be my opinion to say I think most people in Albuquerque would say that those that are breaking laws it appears to outnumber those that are not and that’s where we need to shift it back because there are really good people doing really good things in Albuquerque but they’re getting overshadowed by some of the carelessness and the lawlessness that’s happening.
Is there any specific policy or bill that you’ve helped to sponsor or sponsor yourself that you think is a major success that occurred in 2022 to help tackle either homelessness or crime in the Albuquerque area?
I’m sure there is but I don’t know exactly which bill that might be. I think that just really working with the administration, working with the other councilors to be able to see what we could do. I know that one off of the top of my head that we’re looking to update again in early January, even as early as the next meeting this coming Wednesday, I’ve really put a lot of effort and work into the Civilian Police Oversight Agency Ordinance and so I’m really proud of some of the changes that we made. And then we’re looking at making even more changes here this next week even. I think that going to talk about crime, part of the change that we are going to be seeing, I think, and it’s kind of moving that pendulum more to the center, is we have the consent decrees that we have here and we’ve had to follow the rules of the CASA and with the DOJ settlements and yet at the same time it’s been, what, almost eight years now? So, a lot’s changed since we were put under the consent decrees. We have made a lot of progress as a city and with our police department in lowering the use of force and making sure to have more community policing and whatnot and we hadn’t updated this ordinance. We were still falling under so much. It was a very rigid structure and so even though we’ve made some progress, I feel like only half of everything was changing because when we get better at one thing, we should make some alterations to some of the rules and protocol with it. We’re looking at doing that which I think will have the opportunity to help APD be able to have some assistance in being able to enforce, and safely enforce a lot of the laws in Albuquerque that they are not able to do now. When you hear people say what APD’s hands are tied, I don’t necessarily think that’s totally true, but in some ways this is going to make it so that APD can have a little bit more discretion and opportunity for changing some of the way they do things. I’m really excited about that one
Looking back at 2022, is there anything you can think of that you could have done better or something that still needs a lot of work going into the next year in terms of tackling either homelessness or crime?
Of course, looking back, part of me wishes I really wish I would have understood and seen the light so to speak. One of the things is with the safe outdoor spaces, it’s an opportunity. I came up with the idea of living lots and I really wanted that to happen because I thought it was going to be a very great first step to saying ‘you can camp and live your life how you want to live your life but you can’t do it just anywhere,’ and when that failed the council I should have known that safe outdoor spaces was what I would consider like a step two or three so I shouldn’t have supported it from the get go. In hindsight I learned a lesson. I was able to say I’m sorry and pivot, so of course it was hard because I don’t want to disappoint anyone, and that was that was a difficult point in time. I wish that that would have happened a little bit differently but since it didn’t I’m going to go ahead and lean into it and embrace it and learn from it.