Friday, February 24, 2017

A Reader Asks: How To Improve Albuquerque 

This column is also appearing in the ABQ Free Press.

Reader Vivian Harris writes: "Joe, I've enjoyed your articles over the years. I would like to ask what you think (in the best of all worlds) what the city could do to improve the economy and living conditions in Albuquerque."

It's not a question we've shied away from, Vivian, but with the city election fast approaching it's a good time to again take up that critical question,

This city has turned into an ongoing crime scene and that directly impacts the economy and the living conditions you inquire about. The inability of the city to effectively staff APD is the major reason. Chief Gorden Eden will argue that it is repeat offenders who are the culprit, but annual reports show crime has dramatically escalated precisely as staffing levels have sagged. The central question for the future well-being of our city is how long will APD remain understaffed?  It has hovered at around 800 officers for several years, even as experts say we need at least 1,000. The next mayor who takes office December 1 needs to declare something akin to a  state of emergency and finally deliver the protection citizens deserve.

Major money would be needed to award bonuses and incentives to good officers from other departments around the nation to attract them to a dangerous posting like Albuquerque. The city council and mayor can find that money but thus far have not had the will to do so. It is one of the greatest policy failures in the history of modern city government and will almost surely end Berry's hopes for any future political career.

Again, Chef Eden argues it's a case of locking up repeat offenders instead of releasing them again and again. No, Chief, the lousy economy, widespread drug addiction and an ill-prepared work force is creating more criminals who turn into repeat offenders.

In addition to an adequately staffed APD the city needs to establish credible community policing that can prevent crime from occurring. Give up those darkened windshields on police cars that conceal cops and that remind you of Darth Vader. Get out in the community and work the beat, the old school way.

For the mayoral candidates the most important and relevant question is whether they will clean house at APD where crime fighting has been an abject and historic failure. Without a new chief and command staff there will be no hope for a turnaround. Voters need to have that at the top of their minds when going to the polls.

That's a lot about crime, Vivian, but when Mayor Berry and his police chief point to a period from over a quarter century ago to show that the city's crime rate was once even higher, you're witnessing an unprecedented and complete abdication of responsibility. That also goes for the asleep at the switch city council. As with the mayoral hopefuls, voters need to hold the council candidates accountable in the coming campaign.

If we can't bring down the crime rate the question of making the city more attractive for economic development is academic. It's simply not going to happen. The last five years are proof of that. But we can get started in anticipation of that joyful day when crime starts its decline.

The city should divert funding from public libraries to after school programs in the worst performing public schools. It  should also look at tapping into the $250 million in sales tax money the BioPark will receive in the next 15 years as approved by voters. Some of those proceeds could be put to use for education as we labor to build a work force prepared for the future and not one invested in becoming criminals.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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