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Albuquerque claims social workers will now respond to 911 calls — not cops

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced that the city will create a new public safety department known as Albuquerque Community Safety.

Albuquerque claims social workers will now respond to 911 calls — not cops
Image Source: Protests Continue Across The Country In Reaction To Death Of George Floyd. MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 12. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Amid calls to defund the police department, the city of Albuquerque has created an alternative department that is intended to relieve stress on the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Mayor Tim Keller on Monday announced that this new "public safety" department will be responsible for responding to 911 calls related to inebriation, homelessness, addiction, and mental health. Instead of sending police officers to address the situation, the department will deploy unarmed social workers such as housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention coordinators, The Washington Post reports. The department will be called the Albuquerque Community Safety. Experts believe it is the first of its kind.



"There is a huge portion of our community that doesn’t necessarily want two officers showing up when they call about a situation with respect to behavioral and mental health," Mayor Keller stated in an interview on Sunday. "So this is a new path forward for us that has been illuminated because of what we’ve learned during these times. Look, there’s political will; there was not political will to make this huge of a step three weeks ago." The creation of this department was a partial response to protestors' demands to defund the city's police department. Many are unhappy about the outcome.



The public safety department, many believe, is not the solution for systemic racism and institutionalized police brutality. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said, "A department of public safety that sends out people who are not committed to sustaining life but are simply committed to not dispensing corporal punishment and arresting people seems to me to be a difference without a distinction." Keller, however, chooses to disagree. He affirmed during his announcement on Monday, "This is the solution."



The new agency will be funded after city staff review the budgets for various departments in Albuquerque. Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair informed The Washington Post in an interview that the police department's funds will also be surveyed. Though funding is unlikely to be revoked from the department's "core work," the APD can expect to see a gradual decrease in its overall "financial footprint." At present, the city spends about $300 million on public safety, 10 percent of which is dedicated to "nonenforcement activities."



As one would expect, the president of Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association Shaun Willoughby was unhappy about the potential budget contraction. "This isn’t the agency to take from," he said. "We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. I know it’s a popular focal point but police departments across the country have been underfunded for years." The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, nonetheless, argued that defunding the department was a crucial part of "reprioritizing and reallocating resources to unarmed professionals." The ACLU also recommended Albuquerque city leaders to institute stricter police reforms.



Albuquerque Community Safety is but one method in which the New Mexico city is addressing its police problem. In January, for instance, the Mayor ensured that Albuquerque’s municipal grounds security department partially took over public inebriation calls. Additionally, over a year ago, mobile response teams were tasked with connecting the chronically homeless with resources rather than punishing them for a systemic problem. Despite these steps forward, there have been since 2015 at least 36 shootings in which APD officers were involved.



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