Council Watch: APD shootings, fire code, red-light cameras
 Alibi V.20 No.25 • June 23-29, 2011 

Council Watch

Seven-Hour Cram Session

Albuquerque city councilors burned the midnight oil on Monday, June 20, in order to push through a packed agenda before the five-week summer recess. With more than 25 action items, the Council meeting lasted nearly seven hours.

Many of the issues—such as regulating the booting of vehicles in private parking lots—had to be deferred until after the summer break.

Police behavior was again the top topic during public comments [Council Watch, “Families Stand Against APD Shootings,” June 9-15]. People addressed the high number of police killings and inappropriate posts by officers on Facebook and MySpace.

In other business, the Council quickly approved several items with no debate:

Eighty-five acres of property between Eubank and Juan Tabo were annexed.

The city will seek bids for gas prices and wants to make a deal for about $3.15 per gallon for city vehicles instead of the budgeted $3.50 a gallon. The savings would be put back into the budget.

Councilors also extended the moratorium on approving new electronic signs [“Cold-Weather Friends,” Council Bite, Feb. 10-16] until they reconvene on Monday, Aug. 1.

There are no meetings in July. The next meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
APD Policies

After weeks of public outcry at Council meetings, councilors sought an independent review of the Albuquerque Police Department’s deadly force training, procedures and policies. APD officers have shot 18 citizens since January 2010, and 13 have died. Councilors put up $16,000 for the review, which includes public forums.

The goal is not to criticize APD, according to a news release, but to ensure that the department’s training is consistent with the best practices used throughout the nation. Councilors Debbie O’Malley, Ken Sanchez and Isaac Benton sponsored the resolution that will be considered at the Aug. 1 meeting.
Councilor Sanchez said it was “vitally important” to evaluate the department’s use of deadly force. Councilor Dan Lewis suggested bringing in the Department of Justice to investigate. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry objected and said a federal investigation could cost tens of millions and have unintended consequences. Police Chief Ray Schultz told the Council that the department is already on it and should have a third-party study completed by the end of the week. He said the evaluation outlines up to 40 recommendations. Public Safety Director Darren White said the study will be forwarded to the Department of Justice. Our police department is under the microscope these days. Families and friends of those who’ve been killed by officers show up at meetings and plead for councilors to do something. Several have demanded the Council ask for Chief Schultz’ resignation.

But the problem isn’t necessarily the chief. Instead, there is an obvious need for more officer training and education. Perhaps requiring a college degree, or at least some post-high school education, is a start to building a professional force that behaves rationally and courteously. Officers should serve and protect the taxpayers evenhandedly, patiently, reasonably and without their finger on the trigger.
Sprinkle Down

An amendment to the city’s fire code was up for approval. It grandfathers in large restaurants and clubs—more than 5,000 square feet and built before to April 29, 2005—and prevents them from having to install sprinklers.

The sprinkler requirement was part of a fire code change adopted in 2005. Businesses were given until 2009 to comply. Then the Council approved a two-year extension in 2009. Earlier this year, it allowed another yearlong extension [Council Watch, “Costly Fire Code,” Jan. 27-Feb. 2].

The sprinkler requirement comes from a 2003 change to the International Fire Code after a large blaze in Rhode Island killed 100 people.
Councilors heard from owners of Frontier, Scalo Northern Italian Grill, Anodyne, Trombino’s Bistro Italiano, Artichoke Café and Wine Bar, Furr’s Family Dining, and others. They said there has not been a civilian or firefighter death in Albuquerque due to a restaurant or nightclub fire in more than 23 years.

Fire Marshal Victor Marquez and Fire Chief James Breen spoke, too, about public safety. Marquez and Breen said the amendment makes too many exceptions for bars, nightclubs and private clubs. In the end, the measure passed 7 to 2, with Councilors O’Malley and Benton opposing it.
Over the years the city has been sympathetic to local owners of big businesses. Some of the business owners said they have alarms, emergency exits and other fire safety measures in place—just not the costly sprinklers. While I understand the monetary concerns—some sprinkler systems can cost as much as $70,000—the safety concerns are more important. Just because there hasn’t been a deadly Albuquerque restaurant fire doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Many of the buildings are aging, and sprinklers not only protect property but also allow more time for people to get out.
Camera Vote

Councilor Lewis proposed an October ballot measure asking the voters if the city should continue operating its red-light cameras. Lewis has been an outspoken critic of the program, which has cost the city big bucks to run [“Cams Back On, +13,” Council Watch, June 9-15].

The city charter doesn’t allow the Council to delegate its authority to the voters. So the results of the election would not be legally binding and would have to be approved by the Council.
A 5-to-4 vote moved the measure to the mayor’s desk for signature. Mayor Richard Berry has been quiet about his opinion on allowing a red-light camera vote.

In favor of a public vote in October were: Councilors Lewis, Sanchez, Brad Winter, Don Harris and Michael Cook. Councilors Rey Garduño, Debbie O’Malley, Trudy Jones and Isaac Benton opposed. Jones explained her position by saying councilors were elected to make decisions.
It is high time the voters weighed in on this issue. The red-light cameras have been a point of controversy since their arrival on intersections in 2006 [Feature, “Under the Lens,” Jan. 25-31, 2007]. Still, with thousands of tickets mailed out each month, it is obvious we have a problem with dangerous red-light runners.

Taking the issue to the voters is the right thing to do—even if that opinion is not legally binding. Councilors have indicated that they will honor the voice of the people on this issue.