Why Albuquerque is responding to calls to defund police with a new unarmed public safety force
In New Mexico's largest city, where this week Mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller, announced plans to create the first of its kind, an unarmed public security force, calls for police relief are being heard.
The so-called Albuquerque Community Security Department will operate alongside the Albuquerque Police Department, but will consist of unarmed social workers trained to respond to emergency calls related to homelessness, mental health, and non-violent emergencies.
As Keller told Yahoo Finance's YFi Prime Minister, the new force will provide dispatchers with a third option, alongside the police and fire departments, to de-escalate certain situations.
"It's not that all situations are different, but we think there are many less intense situations that we can pull out and treat differently," he said.
Funding for the new division would come from relocating resources from about five other divisions, said Keller, including the city's police, fire and transit departments. Overall, it is estimated that it is a $ 10 million division.
Interestingly, the establishment of the new security department was welcomed by Mike Geier, Albuquerque's chief of police. He said the relocation would relieve an already overburdened police force and allow his officers to "focus on reducing crime".
Proponents of the novel community force are confident that this can lead to an improvement in the reduction in violence that has long plagued Albuquerque. For years, the city has issued a letter of consent from the Department of Justice or a federal ordinance to reform the police after a devastating review of a number of police shootings.
Protesters protest the death of George Floyd in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Floyd was a black man who died in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo / Andres Leighton)
A homeless man was shot eleven times last summer and killed by a squad of five Albuquerque police officers when he failed to follow instructions at a bus stop. Body cam footage showed the man reaching for his waistband after witnesses said he didn't use a BB gun. Under the new program, a trained homeless specialist may be better placed to ensure that the situation is not dealt with with the same firepower or force.
"We're just adding more to the officers," said Keller. "The solution is always:" Well, officials should be trained in behavioral health and then addiction and how to deal with homelessness. "And I think our chief of police realized that this didn't work very well. Secondly, it doesn't really help people. And thirdly, we actually have a shortage of officers. So we think this third model is the right way to go."
As other police experiments in other cities have shown, creating new departments can sometimes help establish a new culture. As Yahoo Finance previously highlighted, the city of Camden, New Jersey, saw a significant drop in violent crime after the city police were dissolved and a new county township established. Keller is confident that the same creativity can lead to positive reforms in Albuquerque.
"Basically, a third division is being created, so this is a completely different approach than before," he said.
Zack Guzman is the moderator of YFi PM and a senior author and on-air reporter who reports on entrepreneurship, cannabis, startups and the latest news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.
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