Following the police murder of George Floyd and two weeks of worldwide protests, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council moved to disband the police department and instead invest in community-led public safety on Sunday.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and City Councilors Pat Davis — a former police officer — and Lan Sena, meanwhile, are pushing for reform rather than defunding or disbanding the Albuquerque Police Department.
Keller proposed the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, which is a series of eight reformist policies that some activists say could reduce police violence, during a press conference on Friday.
Keller explained that six of the eight policies are already in place in Albuquerque. The two missing policies are a ban on shooting at moving vehicles — which officers are allowed to do if a vehicle occupant is using deadly force against the officer(s) or others — and “a requirement to exhaust all other alternatives before shooting.”
Keller said that while the city has made progress and is working to implement the last two policies, reform often takes time.
“We can at least demonstrate we’ve been doing that (making changes), but we have to do it faster, and we have to do it better,” Keller said at the conference.
APD Chief Mike Geier joined police chiefs in other major cities in “denouncing the actions of the Minneapolis police officers who took the life of George Floyd,” according to a statement from APD released on Thursday.
The statement claims that Geier is committed to continued reform.
“We just started down the long road of equality, inclusion and reform a few years ago,” Keller said in the release. “This kind of commitment to change from our APD leadership is an important part of making sure we all work together to see this through in lasting, meaningful ways.”
Meanwhile, the head of the city’s powerful police union vehemently opposed the notion that law enforcement is entrenched in white supremacy and violence and soundly rejected the growing chorus of activists’ calls to defund the police.
Indeed, he stressed that if anything, APD should have additional funds allocated to its current fiscal year budget of $210 million — a staggering 19% of the city’s total budget of just over $1.1 billion.
"Defunding the police should not be part of the conversation,” Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, told KOAT in an interview aired on Thursday. “If they want reform, if they want additional training, that's increased funding."
In interviews with the Daily Lobo, Councilors Davis and Sena both advocated for community investment and more reform but stopped short of supporting calls to defund APD.
When asked about the Minneapolis City Council’s move to disband the police, Davis said he believes they did the right thing.
“We’ve seen it work in Camden, we’ve seen it work in other places,” Davis said. “There comes a point where you have a culture that is not going to change and that the community is not going to support.”
He said the Department of Justice investigation into APD, which launched in 2012 and resulted in a consent decree in 2014, gave the city “an opportunity to sort of hit that reset button,” but that there’s still a lot of work to do.
“The problem is that we’ve been working toward checking the box to have the policy in place or for a court to say yes, but we haven’t invested the time to change the culture of the police department and to invest in the community, which is the other half of that,” Davis said.
Sena said that as a councilor and the chair of the Public Safety Committee, defunding is something that she is “pondering.” Like Keller, she also commented on how slow reform can be.
“The community has every right to have frustrations, because policy change itself takes a lot of time,” Sena said. “We’ve gotten this far with changes within APD … but I know that the way communities feel is it’s not enough, it’s not big enough.”
Those comments stand in stark contrast to the Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender’s stance on that city’s police department.
“It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe. Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period,” Bender said.
Many Albuquerque protest organizers are arguing that the time for reform has passed.
Jonathon Juarez, an organizer with the direct action student network Fight For Our Lives, said Albuquerque should consider disbanding its police department.
“We’re still trying to have a conversation about defunding or reallocating money, but what it really comes down to is we should be at that point of talking about disbanding APD,” Juarez said.
Juarez helped organize Albuquerque’s first George Floyd protest on May 28. He was present when police tear-gassed a few dozen protesters hours after the protest ended.
“This administration has had quite a bit of time to try to push their reform agenda,” Juarez said. “Every time something happens that sheds light on the fact that they haven’t straightened up their act, they brush it under the rug.”
In 2018 and 2019 — the two years since Keller took office — APD shot and killed eleven people, according to the Washington Post’s police killing database.
A statement titled “It’s Time to Defund Police in Albuquerque, And Here’s How We Can Do It” was published to La Jicarita, an online environmental politics magazine, on Wednesday by the Abolish APD Coalition.
The statement details Albuquerque’s long — and arguably unsuccessful — history of police reform.
“There’s not another police department in the United States that can claim to have gone through more reform than APD. None of it matters. APD continues to use violence against people of color and people suffering from mental health crises,” the statement reads.
In late March, APD shot and killed Valente Acosta-Bustillos in his home during a welfare check. Then last week, on June 4, APD shot Max Mitnik, a man believed to have been experiencing a mental health crisis. Police reports show that police shot Mitnik in the head while he was allegedly holding a paring knife to his own neck in his family’s home.
The Daily Lobo submitted a request to the city to obtain the 911 call and body camera footage related to the shooting of Mitnik. The request was deemed “excessively burdensome” because some offices are closed or working at limited capacity due to the pandemic and could take 45-60 days to fulfill.
As of the publication of this article, the Abolish APD Coalition’s statement and its demand to “defund, disarm and dismantle the Albuquerque Police Department” have been endorsed by a dozen local activists and organizations, including the Red Nation. The UNM Department of American Studies and several individual professors in the department also endorsed it.
“As the chairperson of the department of American Studies, I am committed to serving our students above all else. They are the reason we’re here,” David Correia, chair of the department, said.
“The University of New Mexico will never be a safe campus for our students — a majority of whom are students of color and working class students — until President (Garnett) Stokes and the (Board of) Regents endorse the call to abolish the Albuquerque Police Department and then abolish the UNM Police Department,” Correia added.
The Coalition, which authored the statement, has put out a call on social media for supporters to add their names. At the time of this article’s publication, the statement had three hundred signatures and was rapidly growing in support.
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @bladvs