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Fri: APD marks record shootings in 2022, ABQ City Council swipes at free buses,+More

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Albuquerque marks record number of police shootings in 2022 — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Police in New Mexico's largest city fatally shot a man they said lunged at officers with a knife early Thursday, marking a record 17 police shootings this year in Albuquerque, the city's police chief said.

The shooting happened after police received calls Wednesday about a man who had allegedly broke a window at a bank and threatened a person over frustrations about not being able to use his debit card, Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said during a news conference. It would be another 12 hours before officers would run into the man outside the police prison transport center. An officer tried to talk to him, but he fled.

The police chief said the man had been arrested three times over the past three months and that authorities had been working with a crisis intervention unit to get him help. Instead, officers ended up trying to negotiate with him at 2 a.m. along the side of a downtown building.

Medina said the man had a knife and ran toward officers, who opened fire.

"Yesterday's shooting is just a grim reminder that we need to work with our state legislators, we need to work with our partners in the criminal justice system, we have to find answers," the chief said. "We have to find answers as to how we can reduce the number of contacts with these individuals."

He noted that a review of shootings by Albuquerque police between 2018 and 2022 identified three common circumstances: when officers are attempting to apprehend violent suspects; when individuals are experiencing some kind of mental health episode; and when people with little criminal history are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and make bad decisions.

The data shared by the Albuquerque Police Department showed there have been 54 police shootings dating back to 2018. Of the cases reviewed, 85% involved people who were armed with a gun or a weapon that appeared to be a firearm.

Authorities also found that about 55% of the cases involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while there were only two cases in which intoxication did not play a role. Without toxicology tests, it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the remainder of the cases.

Statewide, authorities said the number of shootings in which officers opened fire stands at 50 for the year.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said the figures indicate it's not just a problem in Albuquerque — where authorities and elected officials have been grappling with record-high homicides and violent crime.

Albuquerque came into the spotlight nearly a decade ago as community members and activists began protesting a pattern of excessive force by officers, resulting in an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. Federal officials harshly criticized the police force but reached an agreement with the city to improve training and dismantle troubled units.

The latest report by a federal monitor indicated continued progress by the city in meeting the mandates.

A coalition of community organizations and individuals pushing for more changes still has concerns, mostly recently demanding that the Albuquerque Police Department release more details about a shooting last weekend.

Barron Jones, a member of APD Forward and a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said earlier this week that transparency is needed to better understand what, if anything, could be done to prevent shooting deaths at the hands of officers.

The recent cases underscore the need for a statewide use-of-force policy that includes clear, consistent protocols for deescalating interactions with the public "to avoid these kinds of tragic incidents," he said.

Medina said the department continues to work on policy changes and training with the goal of reducing the likelihood of using deadly force. While much of the focus has been on deescalating situations, he said disengagement needs to be part of the equation.

The data released by the department shows that over the last five years, six officers underwent additional training as a result of shooting someone; five letters of reprimand were issued; three verbal reprimands were given; two officers were fired; and one was suspended.

City Council takes another swipe at ending the Zero Fares Bus Program citing unreliable data — Lisa Knudsen, Source New Mexico

The Albuquerque City Council continued its efforts to end the hop-on-and-go Zero Fares program, citing safety concerns despite city data showing that the buses have become more accessible and safer since the program was implemented last January.

Councilors Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña’s substitute bill replaces an earlier version, and if approved, would end the Zero Fares program by June 2023.

The new proposal includes free rides to anyone who is under age 10 and over 62, or who has a student or government issued military or medicare card. And, — at least initially — bus riders will still be able to get a bus pass for free but unlike the current system, it will require riders to show that pass, or a ticket, to the driver when they board.

The City is calling the new pass a “universal pass.” The potential bus riders will be able to get a universal pass either via an application on a personal communication device that can store the pass on the device, through a website that allows the applicant to print a temporary paper pass with a one month term and then will receive a durable pass card via the United States Mail, or by going in person to the Transit Department or an authorized distributor, according to the proposed ordinance.

Everyone else will have to pay the $1 fee for ABQ Ride passes and the $2 fee for the SunVan.

Details about who the distributors will be and how the process will work are expected to be hammered out after the bill is approved by Council and signed into law by the mayor.

The proposal designates $250,000 for the development of a fare pass distributors program, a study to evaluate the fare boxes and fare pass process, and a Transit Security Plan.

The new version of the bill was accepted by the Council unanimously (8-0) with only Councilor Trudy Jones excused due to absence. It is scheduled to be heard for a final vote Dec 5, 2022.

The mayor’s office has yet to indicate how they feel about the new proposal, but they confirmed that their priorities for transit are accessibility and safety.

“We’ll carefully review the legislation that comes to us from the City Council, taking into consideration its impacts to accessibility and safety,” Ava Montoya, the mayor’s spokesperson said.

Concerns about safety on public transit were mentioned throughout Monday’s council meeting and are listed in the bill’s introduction as a justification for why the Council is proposing to end the City’s current program.

The number of total security incidents seemed to have increased as ridership increased, according to data from the city’s transportation department. However, a closer look at the data shows that the Zero Fares program has actually resulted in a decrease in the number of security incidents.

According to the Transit department’s Zero Bus Fares reports, security incidents decreased from 313 in Jan. 2022 to 250 in Sept. 2022, which is more than a 20% decrease, despite a 17% increase in riders.

The Kansas City Transit found that in the three years since the Kansas City Zero Fares program started, it “increased mobility and financial benefits” for riders and even made a better overall experience. “That points to one of the more counterintuitive benefits of eliminating fares: The buses became safer to ride,” reported Next City.

Albuquerque’s program is just months old so it’s unclear how the Zero Fares program here has impacted the overall ride experience for passengers and drivers, the Transit department said.

“While bus fares in Kansas City have remained free for several years, zero fares in Albuquerque was passed by City Council as a pilot program to test whether a similar program could work for our community,” Megan Holcomb, the Transit spokesperson said.

“The Transit Department was tasked with collecting data to determine how to proceed once the program had concluded. We have stated that there are several factors that play into ridership, security incidents, and other data sets, making it difficult to determine how much influence the Zero Fares Pilot Program has had on those numbers, and therefore its overall success,” Holcomb added.

But the city council is moving forward to end the program with concerns about safety, despite the data showing that incidents are going down on the city’s buses.

The Zero Fares reports include a footnote clarifying that the increase in security calls included security checks that include routine patrol by police officers to ensure bus stops and transit centers “many of the items logged in this category result in no further action necessary,” according to the report.

When this is taken into account, security incidents actually declined since Albuquerque made bus rides free.

Tom Menicucci, Council Analyst, suggested the Metro Security data councilors are citing as their argument to improve safety, is believed to be unreliable and explained that the proposed bill allocates funds to improve the data collection process.

“A little bit more resources can go into collecting this data,” Menicucci said.

The data is collected by the Metro Security Division who as of yet do not have a dedicated dispatcher and thus their officers and their supervisors have had to compile the reports on top of all of their other responsibilities, Menicucci said.

“This is kind of a burden and that, of course, kind of risks getting the data correct. This would just help get that all corrected and straightened out,” Menicucci said.

Despite the number of security incidents declining since the Zero Fares program went into effect, City Councilor Brook Bassan said that Albuquerque Police officers, certain members of the administration and her constituents have all said the buses are not safe.

“I'm hearing from constituents that say that they do feel unsafe. There's many people that are coming out to say that they feel safe — that they don't see a problem with any of our public transit in that regard — but there are people that are speaking out, they're just not coming out in quite the same amount of collective voice,” Bassan said.

Increased Surveillance

APD Chief Harold Medina dodged a question during the meeting about whether requiring passes would improve safety on the bus, and instead said that having passes would make it easier to track people.

“You know what it would do,” Medina answered, ”it would give us investigative leads. If they had a way where somebody was documenting who was on the bus and who was utilizing the bus, we could use that information to help us track individuals down and see where individuals are,” Medina said.

He went on to add that most of the complaints about buses being used as “get away vehicles” have been coming from businesses in the Uptown area.

“It would give us an idea about where to be looking and into individual suspects that we may be trying to apprehend and take into custody and charge,” Medina said.

Criminalization as Deterrent

The bill also includes a call for a tactical plan which will establish a “no-ride” list and includes training to bus drivers on how to prevent access to transit by individuals “who have been abusive or dangerous toward drivers or the public.”

The loss of access to transit will be “for an appropriate period of time” and will also involve the offender in the criminal legal system by issuing “a trespass citation or other appropriate means.”

The new proposal also criminalizes the attempt to ride the bus without showing a pass or paying the fare.

If someone fails to either pay for a ticket, show a bus pass registered in their name or show an authorized photo identification card, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor under the new rules.

Medina also testified during the meeting that the biggest issue APD was seeing with the buses was loitering and people congregating at the bus stops.

Loitering, Urine, and Buses Serving as Mobile Shelters

Gregory Sherman, who spoke during the Council meeting and is a regular bus rider, thinks that Zero Fares isn’t the real problem.

“I can’t help but feel that the City Council is arguing over the wrong thing,” Sherman said after the meeting.

“Fares or no fare is always going to be very contentious; meanwhile at the (Albuquerque Transit Center) there are no open bathrooms” Sherman said.

The public restrooms are either super dirty, being used for drug use, or they are supposedly “under construction,” Sherman said.

“Isn’t this a more important issue than fares or no fares; ID or no ID?” Sherman asked.

Councilor Basson said that the reason she originally opposed the Zero Fares bus program was that she expected unhoused people would likely start riding the bus as a safe place to sleep rather than because they wanted to get to a specific destination.

“There are people that need to have somewhere to stay warm or to be cool and they might be choosing to be on the bus, and just spend the day on it,” Bassan said. “And that makes sense in some regards, because they need some kind of shelter.”

No Free Rides

When Source NM asked if creating a complex, multi-tiered bus pass and ticket system in an attempt to make the buses cleaner and deter unhoused people from riding the bus was the best use of public monies, Bassan acknowledged that it may not be the most efficient use of tax dollars but she felt that the Council needed to try something.

“We get in our own way, so much, all the time, that it would be so much simpler for us to do less, instead of trying to always do more and actually messing things up,” Bassan said.

Bassan added however that the Council was unified in believing that some changes were needed.

“Both sides on this issue believe that something needs to change. It's just that we don't necessarily agree as to what exactly that may be,” Bassan said.

Bussan said that she still supports requiring people to get a pass or pay because she believes that providing something for free can be enabling.

“I do think that it's more to me about the responsibility and accountability in society,” she said. ”And, I'm not about creating barriers just to make life harder for people, but I also don't support saying we need to have lower barriers or no barriers in order to just enable people.”

Autopsies released in deadly New Mexico helicopter crash — Associated Press

Autopsies on four Bernalillo County first responders who died in a helicopter crash in northern New Mexico this summer show the pilot did not suffer any medical crisis or have any questionable substances in his system.

The state Office of the Medical Investigator's autopsy findings showed all four men died from blunt-force trauma, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.

The deceased were Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King.

An autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol were found in the 55-year-old Koren's system. There were also no signs he had experienced any serious medical issue like a heart attack.

Koren was piloting the helicopter on July 16 as the group returned from a wildfire on private land near Las Vegas. Authorities say the aircraft made an abrupt descent without any turns before hitting the ground.

Records show King, 44, managed to call 911. Despite being mortally wounded, he tried to lead rescuers to the remote crash site south of Las Vegas before dying from his injuries.

The autopsy mentions preliminary reports suggest a mechanical issue was likely the cause. But it could take the National Transportation Safety Board up to a year to make a final determination.

The crash marked the single deadliest incident for law enforcement in state history and one of the deadliest for first responders.

Koren, 55, was a veteran pilot who had been with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. Being the sole pilot, his death left the future of the air support unit uncertain. But the agency announced Thursday that it will resume Monday using a remaining helicopter.