City to focus on ‘educating’ rather than citing those not following health order

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to soar, especially in Albuquerque, KRQE News 13 has learned Albuquerque Police has only written four citations since April for health order violations. This comes after the Governor repeatedly called for citations instead of warnings.

Mayor Tim Keller already had APD at his disposal, but back in July, he gave about 70-city employees the power to enforce the state’s health order as well. There were firefighters on that list.

However, Albuquerque Fire Rescue says they’ve been focused on educating rather than punishing. “Most of the time it does not come down to writing a citation. I think that’s where people need to be patient and understand that most people comply when you ask them to. They do comply,” says Deputy Chief Gene Gallegos.

The city did cite three businesses back in April for opening when they weren’t supposed to. A fourth citation came after a girls softball league used a city park that was closed because of the pandemic. Since then, no new citations.

Over the past couple of months, the governor has called on law enforcement to cite people for failing to wear masks and mass gatherings, saying lax attitudes have led to this explosion in cases. People have mixed views on the city writing health order tickets.

“Total waste of law enforcement’s time. We’re already short-handed in officers,” says Gretchen Gonzales.

“I think people would snap that they wouldn’t want to be spending their money or going to jail for it,” says Phyllis Hernandez.

Just this weekend, a viewer sent KRQE News 13 a video of a downtown gathering. The Fire Marshal says they’ll address issues like this if they get a complaint.

AFR says they’ve had about 4,500 interactions with people and businesses regarding the health order since April. When we tried asking APD why they’re not writing tickets, the mayor’s office said they are focused on education over enforcement.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office told KRQE News 13 they expect local law enforcement to help keep their communities safe by enforcing the state’s health order. On top of that, the governor’s office is disappointed to hear the city of Albuquerque will not address what enforcement actions they are taking, and is doing a great disservice to New Mexico in the process.

The state’s public health order states the following on mass gatherings:

“Mass gathering” means any public gathering, private gathering, organized event, ceremony, parade, organized amateur contact sport, or other grouping that brings together more than five (5) individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space. “Mass gathering” does not include the presence more than ten (10) individuals where those individuals regularly reside. “Mass gathering” does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment.

NMDOH, Public Health Order, Oct. 16, 2020

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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