The U.S. Attorney for New Mexico sent a letter to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller providing assurances that the 35 agents that the federal government said would be sent to New Mexico would not be for the type of activities that have taken place in Portland, Oregon. U.S. Attorney John Anderson sent the combative letter to Keller highlighting the city of Albuquerque’s high crime rate numerous times after the mayor, and other elected officials, expressed concern over the scope of the mission from the federal agents. “Under Operation Legend, federal agents will be engaged in the type of crime fighting investigative activities in which federal agents are well-trained and in which they already engage on a daily basis,” Anderson, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote. “As Attorney General [William] Barr took pains to make clear at the White House, the federal agents will be conducting ‘classic crime fighting’ activities that federal agents have carried out around the country for decades, including in Albuquerque.”
Anderson said Operation Legend, the program in which the agents will be sent to Albuquerque, was separate from the federal role in Portland. “Portland is not an Operation Legend City and Operation Legend was not conceived or announced in response to events in Portland,” Anderson wrote.
Instead, Anderson wrote, Operation Legend is for cities with high violent crime rates and said that the most recent FBI statistics showed Albuquerque had a violent crime rate nearly four times the national average.
The City of Albuquerque sent a letter to U.S. Attorney John Anderson asking to know the scope of actions by federal law enforcement that President Donald Trump announced will be in Albuquerque as part of Operation Legend. The letter from Deputy City Attorney Samantha M. Hults said that the city welcomes aid from federal agencies in fighting violent crime and gun crime, but expressed concern over statements by Trump and actions by federal agents in Portland and asks for a written commitment that any federal law enforcement agents “conspicuously identify themselves as such, carry and display identifications, and wear uniforms that conspicuously identify the agency for which they work.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller echoed the concern in a statement on Friday afternoon. “We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send federal agents to attack protesters or round up immigrants,” Keller said. “Unfortunately, look at the President’s own words: he’s ready to incite violence in Democratic cities as a re-election strategy, so Albuquerque must be vigilant to ensure that Operation Legend is actually helpful crime fighting; and not just politics standing in the way of police work that makes us less safe.”
Trump has said that he hopes to target New Mexico in his reelection campaign this year. Hults’ letter said that the city would not welcome arrests or the use of force or arrests on “individuals engaged in First Amendment assemblies;” federal agents not wearing identification or identifying their agency; or the use of unmarked vehicles “to detain and remove individuals exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Federal law enforcement has faced criticism from their handling of protests in Portland, including for the actions described by the city.
Albuquerque’s mayor along with the chief of police voiced opposition to a reported plan by the Trump administration to send additional federal law enforcement to Albuquerque and other cities across the nation. CBS News first reported on the memo and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said he was told by the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico that it would be expanded to Albuquerque. Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, “There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city.”
“If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state. We will not sell out our own community, or our own police department, for this obvious political agenda; as they try to incite violence by targeting our city and our residents,” Keller continued. Albuquerque Police Department Chief Mike Geier similarly criticized the proposed use of federal agents.
An Albuquerque advisory board on Thursday voted to condemn the use of city buses for police during protests.
Outgoing Albuquerque Transit Advisory Board Chair Israel Chávez introduced the resolution, saying that using city buses to transport police, outfitted with tactical gear, sends the wrong message to residents.
“How many times have we had folks come in and give us feedback about how horribly implemented [Albuquerque Rapid Transit] was or stops being moved? And I think this contributes to that feeling that transit and transit resources aren’t here for the people but they’re really here for the benefit of something else,” Chávez said. The only board member who voted against it didn’t offer a specific reason, but said he wanted to hear from Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller first.
Albuquerque police have responded to at least two protests with a team of officers transported by city buses.
The transit board’s incoming chair Christopher Ramirez agreed that police unloading out of a city bus during times of protests or civil unrest is a bad image for the transit department.
“I don’t want our community looking at public transit as a part of the problem,” Ramirez said. Albuquerque Paratransit Advisory Board Chair Jacqueline Smith also offered up her support of the resolution. She said the use of transit vehicles for police transportation is in an outdated practice in other parts of the country.
A report by the Urban Institute found that homelessness in Albuquerque has nearly quadrupled since 2013. In 2013 there were 144 homeless in Albuquerque but in 2019 there were 567, according to the report.
The City of Albuquerque funded and assisted with the nonprofit research organization’s report, which was released Wednesday. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller devoted his daily press conference to discussing the report and called the report’s findings “sobering.”
Albuquerque Deputy Director of Housing and Homelessness Lisa Huval said the pandemic is “likely to exacerbate housing instability.”
“More households are struggling,” she said. Keller mentioned that the city’s West Side Shelter went from winter only availability to year-round availability for the city’s homeless shortly after he took office as one way the city has worked to help those who need it to have a bed to sleep in. The city operates the West Side Shelter, which is near the Double Eagle Airport.
As part of its equity focus, Albuquerque will spend about $1 million for summer meals and summer youth programs to help the underserved, Mayor Tim Keller said during his daily COVID-19 press conference Monday. The city of Albuquerque is implementing the summer youth program primarily to help single parents and parents who work different shifts, Keller said. The city will also continue its free meals program through the summer. He said he expects the summer youth programs will help 10,000 families. Many of the summer programs will be led by older teens.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and other city officials took to the podium Friday afternoon to discuss the May 25 death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis and a Black Lives Matter protest that occurred in response to Floyd’s death Thursday night in Albuquerque.
On Friday, fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, who was killed while handcuffed and unarmed by Chauvin in an altercation that allegedly began over an alleged fake $20 bill. Chauvin knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes, even after Floyd stopped responding. Three other officers involved were also fired from the Minneapolis Police Department earlier this week.
Keller said the City of Albuquerque “believes that black lives matter.”
“[George Floyd’s] death has left us, in many ways, with rightful anger and grief. It has highlighted a lot of things wrong with America. It’s also a situation where we know it’s not the first time. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery — the same thing, different context, happening time and time again,” Keller said.
The City of Albuquerque is on track to allow businesses and city services to reopen in tandem with the state’s announced easing of restrictions.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a press conference on Wednesday that much of the state would move to “phase one” of reopening, which would allow retailers, places of worship and other facilities to open to in-person services at limited capacity.
“The city is prepared for this, we know how to go about this,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in his own press conference on Thursday. One preparation that the city was already working on was that the Fire Marshal’s office made placards with temporary occupancy limits. Most retailers will be allowed to open with 25 percent capacity, according to the state’s public health emergency order that will go into place on Saturday. Larger retailers, like big box stores, will remain at 20 percent capacity during the current phase of COVID-19 recovery. He said Albuquerque was ready to follow the guidelines, but warned that if numbers in the city turn worse, his administration could impose more stringent rules than the state’s, noting that Denver had more strict rules in place than the state of Colorado as a whole.
Immigrants, including those who lack U.S. citizenship documentation, can get tested for COVID-19 and seek medical care at a public hospital free of charge. A visit to the hospital will not result in a charge against an undocumented immigrant, according to Michelle Melendez, director of Albuquerque’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. She also said social security numbers will not be gathered. That message was one part of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s Facebook live press conference Monday to address equity, one of Keller’s signature concerns as mayor. When Keller took office in 2017, he created the Office of Equity and Inclusion to address systemic racism in the city and selected Melendez to lead it.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller outlined how the city is handling preparations for reopening businesses in the future in a press conference on Thursday.
“I’m proud of Bernalillo County and of Albuquerque that we actually have been doing a very good job of flattening the curve, staying home and following orders,” he said.
Keller’s press conference came a day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would extend the public health order until May 15, but that the state was now in the “preparation” phase of looking into easing restrictions and reopening businesses. Keller pointed to a graph charting new cases in Bernalillo County that shows the curve has flattened some, though Keller warned it was still increasing.
“It’s going to be a different kind of summer this year,” Keller said. “As badly as we want to pick a date to open up, it’s clear the virus picks the date, not us.”
Keller said he wants to see a downward trend in new cases in the county before the city begins reopening businesses.
“We don’t even have that yet,” he said. “We do hope it’s weeks, not months. But we’re just going to have to continue to use data to inform those decisions.”
Keller also warned that opening up the city before it’s safe to do so will likely lead to longer and harsher economic repercussions if the city is forced to shut down again, and may endanger more lives if there is a second large spike in cases.