When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent 50 state police officers to patrol parts of Albuquerque in mid-May, Mayor Tim Keller announced the operation, saying it was intended to fight violent crime. Officials touted the hundreds of arrests state police officers made, but residents in targeted communities said the sudden over-policing was familiar and felt like a siege.
Is the state police metro surge operation in Albuquerque arresting violent criminals? KUNM reporter Marisa Demarco's been trying for months to get access to public records in order to find out.
MARISA DEMARCO: Well I had questions about why people had been arrested and in what parts of town, because we’d heard some concerns from people who felt like they were being targeted. And I wanted to look at those arrests and see whether they were for violent incidents, which is, you know, that’s why state police were here, was to combat violence around the city. So I wanted to see why people had been arrested.
And there was this case where someone was arrested in this weird little window of time for a pipe for marijuana. Under state law it was still illegal to have paraphernalia, even though the city had its own [decriminalization] regulation. And that case got thrown out in court. So I wanted to see whether there were more situations like that, too.
KUNM: You asked for these records at the end of May, just a few weeks into the operation. We’re now at the beginning of August. How long—under the state’s public records law—should it have taken to get these reports?
DEMARCO: Well, so usually, 15 days under the law. And they can come back and say the request was broad and burdensome, and start giving themselves extensions.
But I would also add that a police report is a pretty standard record, something that lawyers look for all the time and individuals do, and other reporters do. So these records are not hard for people to find or to provide regular access to.
KUNM: What barriers have you run into?
DEMARCO: There’s all kinds of stuff. Like first they were saying that I could look at the records, but I could do it for one hour every day in Santa Fe at pre-scheduled times. I live in Albuquerque, so that would be quite a lot of driving, right? And actually the Foundation for Open Government sent a letter saying that under the law, I have to be given accommodations, reasonable accommodations, to look at these records.
So eventually we ended up mailing over a USB drive, and it got mailed back empty because they said it wasn’t large enough to fit the documents. So a lot of this starts to kind of defy, in my mind, common sense. And this matters because more than reporters request records. Individuals, people, residents, can all request records, and it’s important to know that some of these things are not in line with the law and with the spirit of the law.
KUNM: Does this raise concerns about transparency in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration?
DEMARCO: Yeah, so this fight is familiar to me, and people have probably heard me on the air talking about this over the course of the last several years. Public records law already doesn’t seem totally adequate to me, and it seems like it would take pressure from top leaders in our state to ensure that it’s complied with so that people are getting the most government access and information that they can, instead of the bare minimum, or in this case, nothing at all.
It often happens that I’m chasing a story, and it’s like delay delay delay, and by the time I get the information, the story has faded somewhat, right? I mean we’re two months into this thing. Nobody else is still talking about state police as far as I know. And my story’s kind of like slipping away from me as these requests consistently delayed, this request for what is, honestly, a super standard record.
KUNM: Why is that important for listeners if they don’t get these stories?
DEMARCO: Yeah, because we heard from officials that this surge of state police officers was a real success, that it had done what it intended to do. And I’m trying to verify that. And until I can see some documents and learn more about it, then we just have to take their word for it.