Approach to Policing Mentally Ill Faces Hurdles in New Mexico

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After the death of George Floyd, Albuquerque, N.M. Mayor Tim Keller proposed diverting some 911 calls to a new branch of emergency responders better suited for handling crises related to behavioral health, addiction, and homelessness, reports New Mexico In Depth. Dubbed the Community Safety Department, the agency would be staffed by unarmed clinicians rather than law enforcement, and would take “a public health approach to public safety.” But in the months since Keller’s first announcement, major questions about the department remain unanswered; and in mid-October, city council members pared back the mayor’s proposed new agency to just a handful of new positions.

Back at the drawing board, the administration is trying to better articulate how the new department will distinguish calls to which unarmed clinicians can safely respond, and commit the resources and staff necessary to deliver services to people in crisis that truly match their needs. Albuquerque’s efforts to better address people in behavioral health crises could offer lessons for other law enforcement agencies in the state seeking to reduce police use of force — but they are far from the city’s first effort. Over the last 25 years, Albuquerque has initiated an array of initiatives bearing bewilderingly bland acronyms to better prepare officers for these types of calls or to supplement them with other types of personnel. Meanwhile, some activists hold the view that the only meaningful way to fix policing is to reduce the number of officers—which Mayor Keller adamantly opposes.

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