ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After Albuquerque Police recently used city buses to help transport riot officers to the scene of protests, a citizen advisory group is now pushing back. The city’s Transit Advisory Board is condemning APD’s recent use of transit vehicles, while also calling for the Mayor and Albuquerque City Council to formally end the practice.
At a meeting last Thursday, eight board members cast votes in favor of a resolution, denouncing APD’s use of city buses. No board members voted against the resolution, while one other board member voted “present.”
The non-binding resolution will now be reviewed by Albuquerque city officials in the Transit Department and the Mayor’s Office. Meanwhile, a top city official says the Mayor’s Office “respects where this is coming from,” but implied that the practice will likely continue under certain circumstances.
On May 31, riot officers responded to Downtown Albuquerque as a group of people vandalized several business hours after a protest on Central Avenue. In mid-June, officers in riot gear responded to a protest in front of a Don Juan de Oñate statue near the Albuquerque Museum after a man was shot during the demonstration. In both situations, several of the responding officers were transported to the scene in city buses.
The now-former chairman of the city’s citizen-comprised Transit Advisory Board, Israel Chávez helped draft the resolution opposing the use of buses for “policing.” Chávez says he received several calls from community members who felt the police department’s choice of transportation was “improper.”
“When you’re cross-pollinating the way that the Mayor did, with something that is a lifeline to people, especially people who suffered from mental health issues and substance abuse issues, a lot of those folks rely on our buses,” Chávez said. “When you brand it as an arm of the police department, what you do is your weaponize the transit system, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
According to the text of the resolution, board members who voted in favor “condemn the practice of using transit resources for policing purposes.” The resolution also “urges Mayor Keller to discontinue such inappropriate use of transit resources.” In addition, the resolution calls for Albuquerque city councilors to pass a bill formally banning or prohibiting the use of buses for policing purposes.
“I want to be clear that this is not a condemnation of the police department,” Chávez said Monday. “I would oppose the city’s transit buses being used for the federal, military, state National Guard unless that use was consistent with support of the community if that was in response to a natural disaster if that was going out and providing medical aid.”
Albuquerque Police didn’t directly respond to KRQE News 13’s questions Monday about the criteria it has for using city buses or how often it uses city buses to respond to situations. However, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Transit Department said that as of recent, APD has been using its own officers to drive retired, former SunVan vehicles that are no longer in general service.
Mayor Tim Keller’s office provided a statement to KRQE News 13 about the situation. Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael wrote:
We respect where this is coming from. The reality on the ground is that buses are used to keep the public safe during critical emergencies including getting paramedics onto a scene with mass injuries or dealing with active shooters. Using buses to support public safety enables the city to avoid the types of militarized vehicles that are not in line with our values.Lawrence Rael, Chief Operating Officer, City of Albuquerque
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