'Our city is just continuing to get worse and worse' - candidate Tim Keller
Vows APD Chief Gorden Eden Must Go
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Tim Keller wants to stop what he calls “this slow train wreck” that he says City Hall has been because of the policies of Mayor Richard Berry.
To that end, Keller would fire Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and some of his command staff, get the police department quickly up to a minimum of 1,000 officers, reinstate community policing, reform the city’s finances and get the economy growing again by helping small, family-owned businesses expand – even if it’s just one job at a time.
“What I see happening to our city is not good. I think at best we are stagnant on a number of fronts, especially when it comes to crime and our self-image,” Keller said as he explained to ABQ Free Press Weekly why he is running for mayor. “Our city is just continuing to get worse and worse, and for me, it’s like seeing this slow train wreck.”
The chief cause of the malaise? Lack of accountability by Berry and his almost genetic unwillingness to take responsibility for the woes that have befallen the police department, as well as the administration’s self-preservational foot-dragging in efforts to meet the reform demands of the U.S. Department of Justice, Keller said.
“I said I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the lack of accountability at the top,” Keller, a former two-term state senator and current state auditor. “The police situation is the mayor’s responsibility and I have never seen the mayor own that responsibility. I’m tired of the finger-pointing. First, the crime problem was Santa Fe’s fault because they [the Legislature] wouldn’t pass return-to-work.
“To me, that’s not leadership; it’s our problem. We can’t blame Santa Fe for that. We have to solve it. And then it was the DOJ. First they wanted the DOJ, and now they want them out. The number one priority of my administration will be to restore trust and effectiveness in public safety in our city.”
Nuanced he is not. He wants to restore trust by firing Eden and Assistant Police Chief Robert Huntsman, hiring more cops and getting back to community policing, an idea to which the current administration has only paid lip service under the, so far, rather lax hand of the DOJ.
“He [Eden] has to go, and certainly, Huntsman,” Keller said. “It’s unequivocal that the top has to change. I just know that we can’t have culture change with the same people running the shop.”
Keller said he’ll have a team of law enforcement professionals ready to run the department if he’s elected, and that he’ll also bring back the position of a civilian public safety director.
“I think that it is critical that there is a civilian in charge of public safety,” Keller said. At a minimum, he said, the police department needs 1,000 officers. Currently, the department has about 840 officers.
Where would he get these cops, a goal that has eluded Berry well into his second term?
“You poach them; it’s not that hard. You put together a package and you take qualified, mid-level officers from other cities and states,” Keller said. “You don’t wait for the academy, and you don’t say we don’t have enough chairs in the academy.”
“Those are excuses.”
The packages, or incentives that could lure experienced cops to Albuquerque include the novel idea of working with banks to give those officers housing and other benefits. “If we don’t have the money, we give them houses,” Keller said.
“You’ve got to bring the banks together and say, ‘This is a public safety issue, let’s come up with a package so that we can provide good housing for our officers.’”
Keller also said that one of his main priorities would be to demilitarize the police department, and that he would tell the new police chief to do exactly that.
“The number one priority is that you take care of and respect the front line, and that includes staffing them so that they are not overstretched,” Keller said.
“And second, the tone [of the department] should be one of guardianship, shifting them from the warrior mentality. We are guardians of the community. That is a one- or two-word cultural shift that starts with the academy, but you can’t wait 10 years for that to filter through.”
Albuquerque Rapid Transit
Whoever becomes mayor will have to deal with Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which, if the city ever gets federal funding for the project, could be mostly completed by the time the new mayor takes office. Keller said he would consider changing ART’s routing and running its articulated, electric buses, not on Central – which has been economically devastated by its construction – but on other streets.
“The good news is that ART is a bus, and not a train, so I do think that we can revisit the routing,” Keller said.
“We should probably have ART going over to Cottonwood [mall] and over to Coronado [mall]. That would make it much more helpful. You can make it turn left on University. You don’t have to have a dedicated lane.”
Keller said that if he’s mayor, the city would spend money in its core infrastructure and that he would like to see small businesses have access to industrial revenue bonds.
“I’m going to make sure that whatever the city is doing, it will be for things that are within the city limits,” Keller said. “We don’t have the money or the time to be messing around with sprawl issues and stuff like that.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly.