Public safety is definitely on the minds of citizens throughout the metropolitan area. Mayoral candidates of all persuasions have keyed in on a local response to an apparently rising crime rate, continued economic peril and visibly crumbling infrastructure to push forward agendas which range from continued reform of the local police department to a complete change of leadership. And though he doesn't really come right out and say so, Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, one of two Republicans vying for the city's top job, really is the law and order candidate.
Johnson has adamant views regarding the authority and reach of the DOJ settlement and subsequent management of our local police force. He accompanies this with a stern and certain view about the necessity of the use of force in police work. Further, he is clear that economic recovery in this town is dependent on outside business forces, who when granted certain tax incentives, will give back to the city in a harvest of jobs that will lift the community out of endemic poverty and steer it toward efficiency and economic self-sufficiency. Ultimately, Johnson believes that his excellent and productive experiences in municipal governance will supplement that process and further drive the future success of the Duke City.
Weekly Alibi met with Commissioner Johnson right in the middle of April, on a day when local candidates were preparing their next financial reports for examination by the City Clerk's Office. Johnson was affable, formal, focused and polished as we mostly conversed about public safety—his apparent area of expertise—but also touched on economic development, education and the path this city should take into the future. The full interview video is also available to view.
Weekly Alibi: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself, your campaign; what's important to you as a candidate and why you think that you becoming mayor is going to change things for this city?
Wayne Johnson: There are a lot of things that are important, but let's start with my background. I grew up here in Albuquerque. I'm an Albuquerque native. [I] have lived here all my life, except for one year I took a job in Las Vegas, Nev., doing some [video] production work, editing, producing, directing, that sort of thing. One of those things I found in that foray out of the Albuquerque metropolitan area and out of New Mexico is that this is one of the most special places on Earth. There's no place like Albuquerque, no place like New Mexico … My parents built the house I bought from them four years ago, I still live in my old Sandia High School neighborhood. I'm proud to be a Matador! One thing that we absolutely had back then [growing up in Albuquerque] is an assurance that we indeed were going to be growing, tomorrow was going to be better than today.
That's an interesting cultural promise. To a large extent, for your generation and mine, growing up in the Heights, we had the expectation that as the city grew, things would get better, Albuquerque would become more cosmopolitan, it would be better for everyone. Forty years on, what happened?
We hit a few roadblocks. It wasn't like slamming into a wall, although I gotta say that in 2008 we did hit a pretty big wall in the economy, the Great Recession. For us, it was more like a Great Recession that hasn't ended. We have high unemployment [still] coming out of it. We had a sequester that hurt military spending. Every year the Base puts $7 billion into our local economy.
I just want to get a feel for that, for my perspective as a local. How much does the Base contribute to the local economy?
$7.5 billion. Not just the military, not just Kirtland proper, but with Sandia Labs and all the other [presences] included. That drove much of Albuqeurque's expansion over the years, and it was a blessing and a curse. After 2008, when that military spending didn't come back—as the rest of the country recovered—we just stayed where we were. That's part of our problem. To make things worse, we've seen crime tick up and that's due to a lot of reasons. Since 2009, there's been a staffing shortage of at least 250 officers. I’m reluctant to get into the actual numbers, the race to stupid as I call it. “I'm going to put 1100 officers, I'm going to put 1203 officers ... no that's not the metric we should be using. The metric we should be using is whether or not calls for service are being addressed, whether investigations are being completed ... that we're getting prosecutions and information about those prosecutions over to the DA.
Is that happening?
No, that's not happening for a lot of different reasons. You look at some of the things that have happened over the past few years with the Department of Justice. A lot of folks wanted to bring the DOJ in. But I can tell you from firsthand experience as a county commissioner, you can't run a police department with a gaggle of lawyers, monitors and people that don't really solve the problem but have a vested interest in keeping that problem going. You cannot run a department that way, with a 106-page consent decree that covers everything from use of force to recruitment.
Attorney General Sessions mentioned that the Justice Department would be looking at all those consent decrees, to see whether they’re relevant or even continue to be enforceable with the Trump administration calling the shots. What's your solution, not just short-term, but long-term, for making APD more accountable, more part of the community?
You have two issues you have to deal with when you talk about a safe city. You have the actual statistics; what is crime doing in the city, exactly? Then you have the perception; how do residents of the city feel about their security? People are saying this is becoming a dangerous place to live. To make it a safe city, you need more than statements and platitudes. You need to understand the workings of the department. DOJ has made it harder on our officers. They created, through their mandate, through the consent decree, defensive policing. What I'm hearing from officers … talking to APD officers at all levels … is that they want to fight crime, they want to do their jobs … but they're not willing to do anything too proactive because everything they do is under scrutiny, under attack ... under seige by pandering politicians. A very small segment of the population has lost faith in the police department and will find any fault in any police action. I don't blame them for being reluctant to move forward.