The new Albuquerque Community Safety department began responding to emergency calls last September and acts as a non-law enforcement dispatch team that handles issues within the community, like mental health crises, that the police may not be trained to handle. After just over four months of operation, multiple community members are tentatively hopeful that this department will bring solutions to the city.
Since ACS was created, the department has responded to over 1,500 calls, including 911 calls that get redirected to them and the 311 hotline that connects to them directly.
“(There) is a huge need for us … (with) the amount of calls that go through that are not appropriate for police. A lot of these calls aren't crimes. A lot of it has to do with the homeless population or just individuals that need help, that don't need police assistance,” ACS Deputy Director D’Albert Hall said.
The department aims to hire people with social work or mental health-related field experience as well as knowledge of city resources. The department includes a variety of outreach teams with varied skill sets and response protocols to deal with many types of common community issues.
The formation of the new department came after an increase in protests against police brutality in the community and nationwide following the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Albuquerque has had the second-highest rate of fatal police shootings in cities with more than 500,000 people since 2015, according to the Guardian.
Lisa Christopherson, a local activist, said she is a lot more hopeful about the department than she was previously and doesn’t see it as a political stunt, which she was originally worried about. However, she would like to see more community outreach and communication from the city about the department.
“I'm much more hopeful now than I was a year ago … They're less threatening, so you're not in a hurry to resolve things,” Christopherson said.
Cathryn McGill, founder and director of the New Mexico Black Leadership Council, said she is also hopeful and would like to see the department succeed. Still, she said its operation should be watched closely by the community.
Community member and activist Zachariah Smith agreed that it is important to keep tabs on the dispatchers and how they are operating within the department.
The department is separate from the Albuquerque Police Department as workers are being dispatched from the Albuquerque Fire Rescue department. However, ACS still interacts with APD in the field. As ACS remains unarmed, workers have the ability to call APD for backup if the situation they are responding to becomes dangerous.
“We're instructed if we're ever in trouble, we're calling the police. We have links with that radio. So we do work together in that aspect, like we are out in the field together,” Hall said.
The department has a budget of over $7.7 million in the current fiscal year 2022, compared to the just over $2 million in the FY21 budget. ACS also increased staff from 13 full-time members to 61.
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As the department continues to grow, Hall said ACS aims to become more well-known in Albuquerque and build more relationships with community members. He said workers are “learning more about what we're doing and how we can do a better job of it.”
“They’re in the hot seat. Everyone’s depending on them to be that solution that we’ve all been advocating for,” Smith said.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite