On Assignment: Project Guardian

Keller, City Leaders Plan A Response To Violence

August March
9 min read
A Project Called Guardian
Mayor Tim Keller and first responders meet with the press. (Corey Yazzie)
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On Monday, Aug. 19, city leaders—including high-ranking representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, Albuquerque Fire Rescue, the administration of Mayor Tim Keller and a local FBI agent—converged on the first floor conference room at APD headquarters to provide more details about Project Guardian, the umbrella term officially being used to describe the city’s response to domestic terrorism, public shootings and an upsurge in gun violence here and elsewhere.

Weekly Alibi was there at that landmark event, listening carefully to the words of our elected leaders and their proxies as they discussed a fact of modern life that they reckon must be dealt with in practical—and when possible preventative—terms as the city moves forward, post-El Paso and pre-election.

The media on hand seemed restless as they awaited the same sort of plodding reticence that seems to accompany such discourses in other cities. But the super sad yet salient content of the mayor’s speech was delivered in Keller’s usual triumphal style, which predisposes listeners to honestly believe hizzoner and his cohorts have things under control.

That certainly seemed to be the case here. Everything has been accounted for, analyzed and put to use toward implementing Project Guardian in an efficient and ultimately life-saving way.

The only thing that’s missing, in fact, is the clear realization that all of this could be prevented if guns—especially semi-automatic assault weapons with high capacity magazines that hold bullets especially designed to kill human beings in relatively high numbers—were not available for use by civilians (what’s relatively high? Ask Timothy McVeigh or any other fringy right wing terrorist with a bomb and a beef with the American people).

We understand the work that Keller and company are doing to mitigate domestic terrorism and gun violence, but the elephant in the room must be addressed before it grows even fatter on the blood of our children. That means the discussion held here must be held in Washington, too.

That said, here are the
realpolitik solutions offered to a city that is fed up with gun violence and mass shootings—but still living amid a national culture that practically worships guns and their use, permitting human sacrifice as a means of assuaging the angry elder gods that oversee chaos and darkness, much in the same way the ancient Aztecs perennially put up with the bloody and bedraggled priests of Huitzilopochtli.

The Mayor’s Plan

Keller told those gathered that the press conference would include comment from experts in the field, notably first responders. But he emphasized that the entirety of the presentation was designed as an update for citizens in regard to issues with gun violence and domestic terrorism here in The Duke City.

The mayor began by describing the general situation in our country, things that Keller said are “facing all of us, no matter what.” He then acknowledged that no American city is immune to gun violence or domestic terrorism.

Keller talked about a proactive approach to something that was tragically inevitable. He said the city wants to be ready, and whenever possible, work to prevent events like those that unfolded in Dayton and El Paso from happening in Albuquerque. Keller’s concern in the matter is grounded in the universal; the idea that we must protect our children and cherish the sanctity of life, despite the fact that mass shootings “have become a regular occurrence now, part of our children’s lives.”

In practical terms, teaching children about active shooters and what to do in situations where shots have been fired is certainly necessary at this point in time in our culture. In a world where massacres like the one in El Paso are inevitable, heightened vigilance may equal survival. Keller admits that “the fact they have to do that is terrible, but it’s a reality that they have to know how [to respond].”

A History of Violence

Doing everything in their power to make sure that no lives are lost is the mission of APD in this matter. Generally, it would seem that prevention is very high on the list of best practices to be undertaken by local police interested in fostering a sense of community policing in their jurisdiction. That’s because situations of domestic terrorism define a sort of universal commonality: We’re all flesh and blood and we’re all highly vulnerable to the effects of assault-type rifles. The police are merely one more subculture that might be exposed to violent extremism. We must all work together to ameliorate the issue, the official dictum consequently goes.

But again, this approach, though noble and culturally beneficial in some ways—it does promote affiliation between citizens and the police, after all—ignores the larger issue. The prevention of large scale shootings, where more than a dozen humans can be slaughtered per minute could be prevented through limiting access to firearms, particularly those like the AR-15, a favorite of mass shooters that is specifically designed to efficiently and very violently kill humans.

In his introduction, Keller pointed out instances of gun violence in our own town that have given our local law enforcement officers insight into a continually troublesome issue that could now be repeated on a larger scale and with specific targets in mind—if the massacre in El Paso is any indicator.

He referenced the Emcore shooting of 2010—an incident that resulted from a domestic issue—as a key model in APD’s approach to preventing gun violence at work and in public places, further noting that citizens faced 27 incidents of gun violence at city-run community centers in the past six years.

Police, FBI, Fire

While Keller’s remarks often touched on the theme of gun violence as it pertains to mass shooting and domestic terrorism, the words of Chief of Police Mike Geier were focused on the implementation of programs—including a reinvigorated Project Guardian—that would result in a general decline in violence and criminality through vigilance and prevention.

Project Guardian is about predicting, preventing and responding to active shooters. In addition it will address target hardening and community risk reduction when fully workable, the mayor said as he introduced Geier and other department heads who are in on a multidisciplinary approach to a very complex problem.

If a such shooting does occur in Albuquerque, the presenters who followed Keller said that tactical plans, first responder interactions and patient care procedures have been developed to further ensure the least amount of lives lost to domestic terrorism.

Geier told the press that Project Guardian was begun in 2011 to address police strategies after the near-fatal shooting of Arizona House member Gabrielle Giffords. “There were a lot of lessons that came because of that,” the Chief recounted. He said, “It’s nine years later, we can’t be complacent. We can’t afford to wait for the next killing. We have to be alert to things like domestic terrorism or any type of homicide, early on.”

He noted that Project Guardian was “APD’s proactive plan to address potential high-risk threats to the community. When the department or the community identify such threats, we want to engage in a swift, but compassionate response that includes early intervention and connecting citizens to the resources—including behavioral health services—that are available after such incidents. We have to be vigilant and work on this together, not just law enforcement agencies, but community partners, schools, places of worship and businesses, too.”

Chief Geier reported that the approach to a reworked Project Guardian would be twofold. First, APD will host a series of public meetings about violence to help bring an official understanding of the issue to citizens at the community level. APD is also interested in building citizen’s situational awareness encourage city residents to report suspicious activity to authorities. Geier believes that by engaging the community in public, the police force will ultimately gain the trust of Burqueños and both will benefit.

The second phase of the program involves teaching active shooter response to citizens, particularly to churchgoers and students who may find themselves in the crossfire. The basic methodology being taught in this situational/existential dilemma is called “Run, Hide, Fight.”

The chief would also like to see behavioral health issues related to violent expression mitigated by more intervention programs that place treatment ahead of detention.

In The End

Following Geier’s presentation, statements of support and detailed discourse were contributed by local members of the FBI, Homeland Security, an APD School Resource Officer and members of Albuquerque’s Fire Rescue department.

Each said important, life-saving and life-affirming things. Based on the way they put it, it’s clear that the Mayor and his staff have the situation well under control.

Well except for the following:

• An amendment to the NM State Constitution forbids municipal governments from making gun-control laws.

• State Sheriff’s Departments are still beefing about having to enforce tightened gun regulations passed by our State Legislature back in March.

• The toxic combination of right-wing, white supremacist politics and a GOP cowed by a racist president is responsible for the latest iteration of violence. The only way we can really prevent more of the same is to vote the bums out.

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