Effort to curb panhandling in ABQ targets activity in street medians, sidewalks

An Albuquerque city councilor wants to take a crack at enforcing tougher restrictions on panhandling. Councilor Trudy Jones this week introduced a measure that would ban people from walking and standing in street medians and engaging with drivers and passengers from the sidewalk except in cases of emergencies. Jones’ proposed ordinance would also bar drivers from stopping in a street or intersection “for the sole purpose of interacting with any pedestrian” except in the case of an emergency. City law already bars people from soliciting on a street, highway, entrance or exit ramp for a ride or work. Loiterers are also currently banned from holding parking spaces for cars that are in the process of parking in exchange for money.

Berry to attend Trump infrastructure summit

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry is headed to Washington. The mayor’s office announced Wednesday that Berry, a Republican, will meet with the Donald Trump administration to discuss an infrastructure plan. The mayor’s office said that the administration “hand-picked” the attendees of the summit. Municipal elected officials and governors will reportedly meet with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, among other members of the Trump administration. NM Political Report reached out to the office of Gov. Susana Martinez to ask if she would be attending the summit.

AG Balderas won’t run for governor, will run for reelection

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that he will not run for governor next year, ending months of speculation. Balderas, a Democrat, made the announcement in a statement to media where he highlighted work he has done in his first term as attorney general. “It has been an honor to serve New Mexico and I plan on running for re-election next year in order to continue to fight for our state,” he said. In addition to mentioning prosecuting “more than 100 cases of internet crimes against children and human trafficking” and recovering more than $6 million in Medicaid fraud cases in 2016, Balderas noted his more recent efforts against the Trump administration. “Since the November election, my office has a new responsibility—to stand up for New Mexico against President Trump,” Balderas said.

Lujan Grisham reports raising nearly $900,000 for guv run

U.S Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham reported raising nearly $900,000 since announcing her candidacy for governor in December. The reports came in the first mandated campaign finance filings since she announced she would leave her congressional seat to run for governor of New Mexico. Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited and cannot run for a third-consecutive term. So far, Lujan Grisham is the first major candidate to announce she will run for the position. Lujan Grisham also spent over $150,000, including $31,719.35 to the Washington D.C.-based Anne Lewis Strategies.

Competitor: ABQ ‘rigged’ new body cam agreement for Taser

A Georgia-based police body camera manufacturer is alleging Albuquerque officials used an “inappropriate and illegal” process to reach a tentative agreement with Taser International Inc. for cameras and online video storage at the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Ted Davis, president and CEO of Utility Associates, Inc., filed a formal protest this week saying Taser’s initial bid of $4.7 million should have been disqualified last year because it did not meet the city’s requirements spelled out in a request for proposals. Chief among Davis’ allegations is that Taser low-balled its initial bid by not including specific prices for cameras and other required equipment — a claim reviewed by a New Mexico In Depth using public records related to the RFP. “That should’ve been it,” Davis said in a telephone interview with NMID from his office in Decatur, Ga. “It should’ve been over at that point.”

Utility Associates would have won the contract because it scored second highest behind Taser among the city’s seven-member selection committee.

Berry admin not worried, but federal funds for ART not set in stone

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s administration is voicing confidence that $50 million in federal funding will come their way to help finance the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project. That’s at least what the city’s Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan said Monday evening at a city council meeting. He mentioned that former President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommendations include “a $50 million earmark” for the bus rapid transit project and that even though Congress hasn’t approved a budget, the money is still “currently on the legislative docket to be passed.”

ART, now well into construction with torn roads and narrow lanes that hold back traffic in the heart of Central Avenue, is projected to be 10 miles of dedicated lanes in the street for a rapid bus system with 20 stations. The project is slated to be up and running this fall, but it’s drawn controversy among some residents and business owners along the route, who have blamed slow sales on the project’s construction. More controversy came last week when President Donald Trump released his budget recommendations for fiscal year 2018, which freezes all funding for a Federal Transit Administration grant program for local public transportation projects—including ART.

AG Sessions’ remarks leave questions about ABQ police reform

Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.

Proposed return-to-work bill increases threats to community safety 

The Legislature plans to revisit the issue of allowing the rehiring of law enforcement retirees. This development could potentially agitate the current tension existing statewide between the community and law enforcement. In the reintroduction of this bill, the New Mexico public is being betrayed and threatened by the potential reinforcement of these agencies’ perpetuation of a “culture of war”—specifically an “Us vs. Them” (law enforcement vs. community) mentality.

ABQ police watchdog: Feds investigating more than just video tampering claims

The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step last month of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials in early November, Harness and one of his investigators turned over information they had gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.

Feds confirm investigation of body cam allegations against APD

Federal officials on Thursday said they are conducting a criminal investigation of allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees altered and deleted body camera video. The Department of Justice has received “several requests” seeking a criminal probe, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an emailed response to questions from New Mexico In Depth. “The Justice Department will decline to comment further due to its ongoing investigation into this matter,” Martinez wrote in a rare public confirmation of a federal criminal investigation. APD referred a reporter to Mayor Richard Berry’s spokeswoman for comment. She did not immediately respond.