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 Jun 9 - 15, 2011 
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Council Watch

Families Stand Against APD Shootings

By Carolyn Carlson

Dozens of people asked councilors to consider police department policies, given the number of officer-involved shootings. One by one, family members of nine shooting victims spoke through tears and anger at the Monday, June 6 City Council meeting. “When you kill these people, you not only kill them, you kill a part of every member of the family,” said Mike Gomez, father of 22-year-old Alan Gomez who was shot by an Albuquerque Police Department officer on May 10.

There have been four officer-caused deaths this year. Another 14 people were shot last year, resulting in nine deaths. “A police force working for a city is supposed to protect and serve. Citizens count on them to help but not in Albuquerque. Here, citizens are afraid to call 911 because of APD’s shoot-to-kill policies,” Gomez said.

Bernalillo County Deputy Manager Renetta Torres and her husband, Stephen Torres, spoke about the April shooting death of their 27-year-old son Christopher. “You may not think it could happen to you. It is unimaginable,” Renetta Torres said. The couple beseeched the Council to listen to the pleas of the distraught families present at the standing-room-only meeting. “Please, I beg you, I implore you, don’t let our loved ones die in vain. Let us work together. Let us learn from these tragedies,” Stephen Torres said.

Much of the agenda—including approval of a new strip club and discussion on how to regulate private parking lot car-booters—was either deferred at the start of the meeting or left undone when the Council ran out of time. One piece of business was quickly dealt with before councilors adjourned: proclaiming hazardous fire and drought conditions throughout the city and in Open Space, including the Bosque. Since the area has not seen any measurable rain for about 70 days, Albuquerque Fire Chief James Breen was given the authorization to ban fireworks citywide.

The next meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, June 20, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com

Cams Back On, +13

Issue

A one-year contract extension with Arizona-based Redflex was on tap. Redflex is the company that operates the city’s red-light cameras. This latest contract includes a clause that says Redflex is required to reimburse the city for administrative costs if camera tickets do not produce enough revenue to cover city expenses. The contract will be reviewed and approved annually. Attorney Dick Minzner, representing Redflex, said the company was willing to enter into the agreement even though it “could be a losing proposition." Fourteen cameras have been off since late May when the cameras’ extension expired. Under the new contract, there will be 27 cameras snapping away around the clock. The city has said an estimated $10 million is owed in outstanding fines.

Council's Take

The Council approved the contract 7 to 2, with Councilors Dan Lewis and Mike Cook voting against it. Lewis, an outspoken opponent of the cameras, said the program drains money from city coffers and questioned the timing of the lights. Lewis proposed a separate resolution to take the camera question to the voters in October, but the Council ran out of time, and the measure will be taken up at the June 20 meeting.

Councilors Trudy Jones and Ken Sanchez said the contract benefitted the city and that they were pleased with it. Other Council members said the cameras made the city’s intersections safer, and the new contract addresses their concerns.

Councilor Rey Garduño asked about unrecovered fines. Minzner said they’re not Redflex’s problem and encouraged the city to do a better job collecting. He also pointed out that Albuquerque has made an agreement with a collection agency to pursue the fines.

The cameras will be back on Friday, June 10.

Reporter's Take

Councilor Lewis’ proposal to take the future of the program to voters in October is a good one. Residents should decide if they want to police themselves with red-light cameras. That way, it would be our decision to have camera eyes all around town, instead of feeling like big brother pushed it on our community.

The contract does not say where the 13 new cameras will be placed, and there was no discussion about the locations at the meeting. The fines will remain $75 per citation with the money being split three ways between the city, state and Redflex. An authorized city employee will continue to review the photos before the citations are mailed out to decide if they lawfully show a red-light runner zipping through an intersection.

Beat It, Birds

Issue

An ordinance making it a violation to feed or harbor feral pigeons was back on the table. The Council previously returned the measure to the Mayor’s Office for a rewrite. One problem was a clause allowing city personnel to enter a resident’s property without a warrant to check for outlaw pigeons. That portion was removed: If the homeowner denies entry onto her property, the city will have to seek a court order.

The new measure says it’s a violation to feed, offer food, or allow feral pigeons to eat, roost and linger through negligence. It applies to the common pigeon, also called the rock dove. A $50 fine can be issued for each infraction or for each day of a continuing violation. Mark DiMenna, the city’s Urban Biology Division manager, said the bird droppings are polluting the Rio Grande, destroying buildings and are a potential health hazard.

Council's Take

The Council passed the measure 6 to 3, with Councilors O’Malley, Lewis and Isaac Benton voting against it. O’Malley said she had a problem with making it a civil violation to feed pigeons. Councilor Brad Winter, who carried the measure for Mayor Richard Berry, said the birds are a problem in some areas—Downtown, Old Town and near Cottonwood Mall—and cause great damage to private and public structures. Several people spoke on either side of the pigeon polemic after DiMenna made a short presentation with photos of poop-covered areas. One woman said watching people feed the pigeons in Old Town is a photo opportunity for tourists. But in the end, pigeons were told they are not welcome in Burque.

Reporter's Take

Passions run deep on both sides of this issue. But it is ridiculous to make feeding pigeons, intentionally or negligently, a violation. Vague wording opens the door to selective enforcement. At least the revised version removes the warrantless property entry.

There has to be a better way to handle the small number of people who feed birds to the point of causing a nuisance. If pigeons damage certain areas, then prohibit feeding the birds in those locations. As I have said before [“Pernicious Pigeons,” March 10-16], there have to be places in neighborhoods where pigeon enthusiasts can feed and enjoy their feathered friends.
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