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Albuquerque measure to stop military transfers to police fails

Albuquerque Police Department SUV. (Trick on/Wikimedia Commons)

If the Albuquerque Police Department wants to take military castoffs in the years to come, there will not be a rule on the books to stop it.

A resolution that would have banned APD from participating in a federal program that transfers U.S. Department of Defense surplus equipment to law enforcement agencies failed to pass the city council Monday night, dying on a 4-4 vote.

Councilors Pat Davis and Lan Sena had introduced the bill earlier this summer amid the national civil unrest that erupted after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.

Mayor Tim Keller has already come out against the federal program – known as 1033 – saying “it is out of step with our values,” and APD says it has not received anything from the military since 2016.

The resolutions’ sponsors said they wanted to keep it that way, even under future mayors and police chiefs.

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“It’s not conducive toward keeping our community safe; it’s not reflective of what community policing means,” Sena said of the program.

Several local faith leaders spoke in favor of the resolution during public comment, and more than 60 publicly expressed support.

“If we want to build communities of trust between the police and within all of our communities and their goal to protect and serve, then we must see this as a declaration of war against our citizens if we have these kinds of options available,” a local minister told the council.

But the proposal lacked the votes needed to pass.

In striking it down, Trudy Jones said it was “political,” while Klarissa Peña said it seemed unnecessary and possibly “divisive.”

Cynthia Borrego and Brook Bassan also voted against it after a pair of amendments they co-sponsored failed on similar 4-4 votes. They raised concerns that not all of the equipment is war-like and it would be inefficient for Albuquerque to reject something that is free and could be useful to officers.

While the equipment received by APD in previous years includes a “mine-resistant” vehicle, an APD lieutenant told the council that most of it was small items, which Bassan argued were valuable.

“We do not have bayonets, we don’t have a tank; we never wanted to get those, we’re not intending to get those. But ammunition could come from that, sights and scopes, there’s a storage container (APD is using from the program) …. This is all equipment that is utilized by our police force to keep us safe on the street from people who are doing harm to us,” Bassan said.

Sena pointed out that none of the equipment is used in the “community policing” model several councilors say they support, while Davis argued that military equipment is most often used against people of color and poor communities – populations that city leaders talk about supporting.

“I think it’s disingenuous for us to offer ideas that we want to solve other areas of inequality for communities of color and not take a real stand with the community who’s asking for us to change the dynamic between the community and the police,” he said.

But the bill failed on a tie vote, with only Diane Gibson and Isaac Benton joining the sponsors.

The ninth councilor, Don Harris, left midway through Monday’s meeting without explanation.

Also on Monday, the council did not vote on Peña’s resolution to delay for six months the city’s implementation of the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code. Peña lacked the votes to put the item up for an immediate vote, so her resolution now goes through the normal council committee process.

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