Data shows public health order enforcement increase in Albuquerque

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New numbers show the City of Albuquerque has ramped up its enforcement efforts. The latest data comes three weeks after New Mexico’s governor ordered a crackdown on people ignoring the public health order.

Out of more than 7,000 contacts the city’s Public Health Order Team has made with people and businesses since March 2020, roughly one-third of those interactions happened in October. The data shows city enforcers still aren’t focused on handing out tickets though.

“The goals of this, the Public Health Order Team– public safety is number one, and then education,” said Albuquerque Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Gene Gallegos. “The overall goal is compliance, that’s what we’re looking for from the community and everybody.”

Albuquerque’s Fire Marshal, Gallegos shared the latest data with Albuquerque City Councilors Tuesday during a meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee. According to data presented by Gallegos, various city employees had 2,088 so-called “compliance interactions” in October alone, more than any other month in the pandemic. The same team also gave out more than 500 formal warnings since October.

Initially, the city also reported APD has handed out nine citations in October. KRQE News 13 inquired Tuesday about who received those citations. Upon double-checking the data with APD, a spokeswoman said those nine citations were actually “notices of violation.” A notice of violation is a formalized warning that can be issued by police or other city enforcement staff. However, that violation does not carry any official penalty, criminal violation or fine.

APD says most of those notices of violation were given out between October 24 and 30 at various city parks. Each one of the violations was issued to people who were not wearing masks. The city stats released Tuesday also show most of its compliance efforts have been focused on businesses and making sure workers are wearing masks.

“This model we’ve adopted is really compliance assistance, where we really want them to understand what we’re asking them to do, what they’re supposed to be doing, how they can best comply, that’s why we’ve been talking for the last several months about education so much,” said Dr. Mark DiMenna, deputy director of the Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department. “It’s much more important to us than when our inspectors leaves that the facility continues to do the right thing, continues to do the safest thing for people coming in and for their own staff rather than us just being able to bust somebody while we’re there.”

Wednesday, New Mexico State Police said it has received 2,384 non-compliance complaints to the state’s COVID-enforcement email address. NMSP says it has investigated 413 public health order complaints, issuing four citations, nine cease and desists notices, and 59 written warnings.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told KRQE News 13 Wednesday in part, “Overall, New Mexicans should be glad cities like Albuquerque are making the effort alongside the state.” The Governor’s Office also said, “we all have a role to play in stopping the spread, not just the ‘enforcers.’”

Enforcement is always challenging and always improving. The state of New Mexico’s “enforcement” response is larger than state police – it goes to the Environment Department’s OSHA division checking on workplace safety, the Department of Health and Aging and Long-Term Services Department regulating nursing homes and long-term care facilities, state parks enforcing occupancy and in-state requirements, etc. But overall New Mexicans should be glad cities like Albuquerque are making the effort alongside the state – we’re all in this together. I would be remiss not to highlight that you can’t talk about enforcement without talking about compliance – no government can be in all places at all times and no government can monitor and enforce perfect behavior to prevent the spread of the virus. If the virus is spreading rapidly, and it is, compliance is not happening. We all have a role to play in stopping the spread, not just the “enforcers.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, Press Secretary, Office of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

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