In a guest column penned by former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, the local daily provides yet another version of the things that happened in the past to get us to where we are—ashamedly so—now.
Much of what Chavez writes rings true, yet other statements that he makes in the body of his arguments seem to be out of step with current community values. And interestingly, while the opinion piece begins to place blame on certain Albuquerque organizations and institutions, it does not name names—though these names are already blaringly present in what discourse there is or has been about what happened in Albuquerque 8 to 10 years ago.
Chavez seems loath to fix the blame on any specific policies or enacted platforms, though it’s clear that his arguments center around the actions of the City Council and mayoral administration during the time referenced.
Former Mayor Richard Berry continues to get a pass, in other words. And his chief administrators, advisors and legal counsels remain only vaguely remembered—one, Michael Riordan, has yet to resurface after the untimely and tragic death of his wife—yet apparently these men and women were chiefly responsible for much of the blight the city is currently experiencing.
That’s a shame because the missing data undermines Chavez’ otherwise worthy attempt to define our city’s ongoing economic and cultural struggles. That lack of clarity calls for a critical response: Here it is.
If indeed, as Chavez gravely informs us, “our current predicament is the result of real policy decisions at City Hall,” then we must reckon with those responsible for the decision-making that resulted in a sharp rise in crime, while the ranks of city police officers waned, while the ranks of the homeless grew and the local economy acted as if it were a glitch-ridden track on an album about urban decay and cultural decline.
The political forces within the state Republican party that brought New Mexicans the reign of la Tejana, Susana Martinez, were also brought to bear on la politica in Albuquerque. The result was the election of Richard Berry in 2008 amid the growing power of Republican operative Jay McCleskey. McCleskey’s ideological priorities became the policies that Martinez and then Berry espoused and then implemented during their terms. In Berry’s case, some of this rightward directionality was abetted by a city council without firm progressive values, one often ruled by traditionalist Republicans like Brad Winter and Dan Lewis.
The point here is that if Chavez is going to call out an entire administration for mismanagement, then he is well aware of the identities of the main players; leaving them out of his op-ed seems a curiously indefensible omission.
Further, Chavez’ contention that the Albuquerque Police Department has “never been a department out of control” seems a callow contradiction of the legitimate and documented findings of the Department of Justice. Writing that “cops should be allowed to be cops” may further serve to legitimize police violence and leaves readers with the impression that simple, naive descriptions of the law and order process are better than critical inquiry that calls for accountability.
The settlement agreement with the DOJ does not result in the department being “severely constrained” but rather provides a path to redemption and lawfulness that can be further expanded with the implementation of community policing projects. In fact the language of the agreement is quite clear, a fact that Chavez completely and conveniently ignores.
“The provisions of this Agreement are designed to ensure police integrity, protect officer safety, and prevent the use of excessive force, including unreasonable use of deadly force, by APD. By increasing transparency and accountability on use of force, APD will promote more effective law enforcement and will strengthen public confidence in APD. This Agreement is also designed to provide APD officers with the skills, training, tools, and support they need to implement the goals and objectives of this Agreement.”
Finally, Chavez’ assertion that “judicial malfeasance remains a problem” ignores the larger phenomenon of crime being driven by poverty, addiction, behavioral health issues and the desperation that results from such conditions. Some recent judicial reforms in this state, including the bail reform measure, were amendments made to New Mexico’s constitution through a process that included a public referendum.
It was ostensibly implemented to level a playing field in a local and state criminal justice system that saw private bail companies grow rich on a plentiful population of poor, mostly nonviolent offenders. Though the bill has met the objective of lowering prison populations and diverting nonviolent offenders into rehabilitation programs, it also has serious drawbacks that have resulted in violent offenders being released from custody, only to offend again. Pretrial release standards were codified by the State Supreme Court after the amendment’s passage.
But the issue of the law’s efficacy is one for the legislature, not the local judiciary or district magistrates. The legislature and the Supreme Court should definitely and immediately review and revise the law in the name of public safety, while preserving its original intent. Blaming the judiciary for following the law, as demanded by New Mexico voters and approved by the State Legislature, is not only misguided but also seems woefully out of touch with prevailing cultural issues that continue to flare and burn within our city and state.
Chavez’ writ ends with a call for patience and praise for a strong but community-responsive local police force—and for our governor’s contribution toward ameliorating the problem. Though it is right to praise such things—our city rocks and we are damn proud of the steps forward taken by APD and Keller—serious concerns remain about the deployment of State Police within the city. Reports of overpolicing can not be ignored or dismissed.
Chavez’ belief that a lack of consequences are to blame for the high crime rate—and consequently the show of force—seems simplistic for a man who once led this city into the 21st century.