by Carolyn Carlson
— Albuquerque’s coffers are a little healthier. Councilors heard this good news at their Wednesday, Jan. 23 meeting. City Budget Officer Gerald Romero said gross receipts were slightly up for December after a downward trend.
Councilor Ken Sanchez had questions about how things are going with the city’s new public access cable TV operator, uPUBLIC. Sanchez said he was concerned about the lack of programming, particularly coverage of high school athletics. Sanchez said under former operator Quote…UnQuote, high school athletic events were aired by ProView Networks. There was discussion with Rob Perry, the city’s top administrator, and uPUBLIC’s Rick Metz, who said the company has plans to cover high school athletics. It was agreed that Perry would report back to the Council in a month to show what uPUBLIC has been up to since they took over operation of public access channels on July 1, 2012.
Councilors approved their state legislative priorities, which include continued support for capitol, housing, infrastructure and animal service initiatives, along with education and public safety projects. The city also asks the Legislature to at least maintain current levels of funding for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Topic: Citizen Sirens
Three new members were appointed to the embattled Police Oversight Commission. The POC is comprised of nine civilians. Each councilor recommends two candidates from their district to Mayor Richard Berry, who then selects one for approval by the full Council.
The POC has come under fire by activists and families of people killed by Albuquerque police officers. Just before the City Council meeting, 20 people held a sit-in against police brutality outside the mayor’s office. The activists say the commission is ineffective, biased towards law enforcement and that it should be revamped or disbanded. At a Dec. 13 POC meeting, five people were not allowed to speak, including police brutality activist Andres Valdez. After some protest, he was escorted out of the meeting by security. The American Civil Liberties Union is now involved, since citizens are permitted to speak before local government within the time allotted for public comment.
During public comments, Evan Rohar and Nora Anaya asked for a town hall meeting to “allow us to have some conversation about what is going on with police brutality.” Councilor Rey Garduño said he would ensure the city sets one up. The full Council approved all three POC nominees: civil engineer Jeffrey Peterson; educator Carl Foster, who was a reserve deputy officer for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office; and Albuquerque Public Schools military instructor William Barker. Councilors agreed the POC should be reorganized, and Dan Lewis, Don Harris and Brad Winter each said they have draft bills in the works. Councilor Isaac Benton reminded everyone that in May 2011, the city paid for a study conducted by MGT of America on how effectively the POC addresses citizen’s complaints. Benton and other councilors said they have had a hard time finding citizens in their district interested in serving on the commission.
One form or another of a civilian oversight commission has been around since at least 1978 when a short-lived Police Advisory Board was created. But it took more than 20 years—until the early 2000s—to set up the current structure of the oversight commission to address citizen complaints. The ACLU of New Mexico issued a statement that the POC should make a public apology to the five people who weren’t allowed to speak at the contentious December meeting. The statement also asks the city to pay “the silenced five” between $1,500 and $2,500 each in damages. The city disagrees.
The only way a civilian police oversight commission can be effective is if the public can trust its members to take a fair look at police brutality complaints and help avoid expensive litigation. The police chief should not have the authority to simply ignore the POC, as is the case today. The commission’s recommendations should be seriously considered among APD’s chain of command. Otherwise, aggrieved citizens have no other choice than to go straight to court.
The next Albuquerque City Council meeting is Monday, Feb. 4, at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. Watch it on GOV-TV 16 or cabq.gov/govtv.