Two City Council committee meetings last week brought up the subject of police department budgets, a topic receiving attention nationwide as protests against police violence continue in many cities. The Albuquerque Police Department’s budget is now under review, with a state investigation into the department’s use of overtime hours raising questions about ethics and accountability. At the same time, a memorial bill from Councilor Brooke Bassan supporting APD’s 2020 budget appropriations was met with criticism (and an amendment).
On Tuesday, July 14 the City Council Committee of the Whole met to discuss the Albuquerque Police Department’s budget from fiscal year 2020. Teams from both the City Council and APD presented budget data to the committee.
For fiscal year 2020, APD’s proposed budget was $205,348,000, or 32 percent of the city’s entire budget. The police department receives an additional $4 million from operating grants (such as the federally-funded Operation Relentless Pursuit grant) and $670,000 from the Law Enforcement Protection Fund.
The most noticeable budget incongruity relates to APD’s use of overtime. Overtime spending for fiscal year 2020 was $17,116,241—about $7 million over what was budgeted, despite the fact that more was appropriated for overtime this year than in any year in APD’s records. And it seems that going several million dollars over budget for overtime is something of a trend. According to data assembled by city council staff from APD records, the department went about $8 million over budget for overtime in 2019, and about $7 million in 2018.
The police department’s use of overtime has faced scrutiny since last year, when state auditor Brian Colón began an investigation into APD’s use of overtime after receiving multiple complaints. Last Wednesday, July 15th, Colón asked the Attorney General’s Office to aid in the investigation by assigning special agents to work with his office. Weekly Alibi will be following this investigation and reporting as we find out more.
Long-standing vacancies in the department were also discussed. The majority of the vacant positions, and the longest unfilled (some for over a year), are for the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), a program that specializes in working with people who are mentally ill or in crisis.
Councilor Pat Davis asked the APD representatives on the Zoom call, “Is it APD’s position that they don’t intend to hire these positions? Or, when do they intend to hire them?”
One representative of APD on the Zoom call indicated that the department was still trying to determine which area commands these new employees would be stationed in, while another said that filling these positions was still a priority of the department’s.
In a phone call, Councilor Lan Sena addressed the possibility of moving the COAST program away from the police department and into the newly formed Albuquerque Community Safety department. “We’re talking a lot about this new department,” said Sena. “For example, the COAST program—if we’re going to move it to this new department, are we going to transition that funding to the new department, too? As a councilor I have the power of the purse, so I’m definitely looking into it.”
Later in the week, on Thursday, July 16, the Public Safety Committee met to discuss new legislation and that new city public department, Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS), created by Mayor Keller in mid-June to handle nonviolent 911 calls.
Two bills were up for a vote. One, a memorial bill from Councilor Bassan, was to “express support for the Albuquerque Police Department budget appropriations as stated in the city’s FY20 budget priorities.” The bill also reaffirms the City Council’s commitment to hiring 100 new police officers and “increasing funding available for wage increases and other programs to recruit and retain police officers” for 2021.
The bill was met with criticism from the rest of the committee and the public commenters.
“It’s exactly the wrong time for this bill,” said Councilor Isaac Benton, clarifying that, while he supports the police department, he would not support the bill. Councilor Lan Sena added that, “It’s not right to affirm one department’s budget right now while not looking at another department’s budget,” emphasizing that all city departments are financially burdened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilor Pat Davis proposed an amendment to the bill, which specifically struck out lines about hiring 100 new officers in 2021 and affirming the right of police officers to carry firearms, an affirmation that Davis said was “unnecessary.”
The amendment passed unanimously. The bill, as amended, was moved to the next City Council meeting’s agenda, to allow for input from the entire council.
The subject of APD’s overall funding and the recent protests around police violence came up in other areas as well, especially from the public commenters—all of whom spoke in favor of reducing funding for APD and focusing funding in other areas to ensure public safety.
Paul Haidle, the executive director of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, a member organization of APD Forward, expressed concerns around the Albuquerque Community Safety department, saying that, not only were constituents not consulted on the creation of the department, but that this department doesn’t directly address the concerns of overpolicing. “We believe the point of defunding the police is to reduce the number and the presence of armed officers, not to match the funding of every other department up to the police department levels.”
Robby Heckman, a representative from La Mesa Presbyterian Church, also a member of the APD Forward Coalition, echoed previous calls to reallocate funding from APD.
“I'm commenting today to urge the city council to take bold action regarding your evaluation and ultimate reallocation of resources from the APD budget. I ask that your decisions be grounded in human dignity and informed by a commitment to dismantle institutional racism. This is a time to reimagine and redefine how we address and resolve conflict relating to public safety in our community and our larger society.”
Another bill, sponsored by Councilors Sena and Davis, proposes prohibiting the police department from participating in the Pentagon’s “1033 program,” which allows civilian police departments to obtain surplus military equipment such as tanks and mine-resistant vehicles.
Davis said that this program was created after 9/11 to help police departments handle any terrorist threats, and that, after the legislation was enacted, military suppliers began making more equipment specifically to meet the demands of the program. But there is subtext as well, Davis says. “As part of the 1033 program, you’re required to use the equipment. Whether you have a terrorist threat or not.”
Sena and Davis’ bill passed with a 3 to 2 vote.
On a phone call, Councilor Sena added that Representative Deb Haaland has just introduced the PROTECT Act, which will help cities dispose of the military equipment they already have.
“I’m grateful to the community for being engaged and holding us accountable,” Councilor Sena said of the thousands of emails her office has received regarding this bill and APD’s funding. She urged constituents to remain engaged and reach out with input on the Albuquerque Community Safety department at ACS@cabq.gov.