On Saturday night, we went downtown to the Launchpad to see the Handsome Family. It was a good show, especially the performance by The Grave of Nobody's Darling, who were new to me. But that's not what this post is about.

When the show ended, around 1:30, we left the bar and walked up Central towards 4th St., where we'd parked. The first thing we saw, as we crossed over 6th St., was an APD squad car parked in the middle of Central, with a half dozen officers standing and leaning on its side, not talking, but just watching the cheesy bar that used to be Colossium (I think it's called 7 now, but I'm not sure). There weren't any obvious disturbances and the folks in front of the club were ignoring the cops. It was wierd and things got wierder as we moved further east on Central.

After we crossed 5th St., we saw officers filling the intersection of Central and 4th. We noticed mounted police, as well as large police vans. It appeared that APD was preparing for a riot. The people on the street were almost all young and everyone seemed to be either a bar patron or a cop. The atmosphere was tense, but there weren't any obvious interactions between the police and the public. When we turned south on 4th St. to find our car, we saw that 4th between Central and Gold was filled with 3 rows of cruisers, SUVs, arrest vans (paddywagons) and horse trailers, all bearing APD markings.

Now, I used to be a regular at the Anodyne and I remember a time before APD starting bringing out the crowd-control horses and the squad cars as a matter of policy every weekend. Back then, I witnessed some fights and some people being drunk and stupid in public. And I witnessed a quick response from APD when trouble arose. I also remember a different kind of crowd, more diverse in terms of age and activity, than the group which was downtown last night.

The reason I note all of this is that I wonder what kind of effect this type of policing has on the success of downtown. When did it become the norm for APD to turn Central into (for lack of a better phrase) a militarized zone every weekend night? And how much does it cost the city to do this weekly? Is this a policy of the mayor or the police department? Do we have any say in how the police police us?

Here is what I propose: for one month (or three or six), APD could refrain from sending out dozens of officers and horses and vans on weekend nights. They could instead patrol downtown primarily with bike cops and officers on foot. These peace-keeping officers could move through the crowds, interacting with people and ensuring that even if that drunk guy decides to punch his friend, it'll be dealt with quickly and in a measured way.

Ideally, I'd like people to see downtown as a place to socialize and enjoy Albuquerque's cultural scene, whether the draw is a bar, a restaurant, an art gallery, a concert, or a show at the Kimo. I'm not alone in thinking that a large part of the current problem with downtown is that people are afraid. Maybe they're afraid of the presence of young people frattin' and thuggin' (as my sweetie so eloquently puts it). But I also think that fear is caused by the overblown police presence. Who really wants to stroll down a street lined with mounted police and cops who have one hand on their holsters? Maybe a different approach to community policing would also improve the number of people who choose to live in downtown. I, for one, would be loathe to pay a few hundred thousand dollars for a condo in a neighborhood where my street will be filled with cops every weekend night, regardless of why they're there.

This is very long-winded, I know, and I apologize. I guess I'm just really frustrated by what is, in my view, a wrongheaded approach to the use of community resources. Yes, we all want to be safe when we go out for a night on the town. But I'd need to see the numbers pre- and post-policy to believe that the current approach, which sets up an intimidating dynamic of police versus public, actually reduces crime. We forget sometimes that the police are public servants and they are also members of our community, not the wardens. I think APD has gone a long way towards making us forget those things and I hope our next mayor works to change that.

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the fact that the job of a police officer (which is employment at will, by the way) is dangerous is always brought up in reaction to any criticism of the way police serve, or fail to serve, their communities. yes, it's a dangerous job to have and I never imply otherwise in my post. that doesn't mean that officers and their superiors should be immune from criticism about the potentially negative impacts of the policies regarding their service.
But it's also possible that creating a culture where danger is expected makes it more dangerous. This isn't necessarily the case downtown in ABQ, but it is possible that putting a lot of cops out in full riot gear makes people expect shit to go down, making them more likely to make the situation get worse when shit does hit the fan.

The fact that they do put themselves at risk really means that we ought to be questioning the way they are used by their superiors to make sure the risk they are taking is worth it, no?
Wow! I had no idea this happened every week. No wonder you can't get a police response in the neighborhood when you need one. Are they practicing for the next peace demonstration?
Actually it is in response to a lot of violence that ocurred in the past. It is also dependant on what bands are playing at what bars as they draw different crowds, The property owners down there that are NOT bars have had it with the violence/destruction/noise so they call in constantly with more & more complaints. As to the condo dwellers, they are also constantly complaining for more and more police. I personally have no real sympathy for them as they bought a home that usually requires them a) listen to bands and drunks all night and b) leave their cars overnight where drunks and the occasional thug or wino can do whatever to them. It doesnt really change the fact that they (police) are responding to a huge flow of complaints. I suggest you get all your friends to call the Chief's office (768-2200) and ask that they tone it down on the resonse. But dont forget, if they do tone it down and someone gets shot the following weekend they are going to get their butts handed to them for not having done enough to stop it.
So there's no incentive for a bar not to hire a band that draws a violent crowd, because they don't pay for the extra security or suffer the consequences from the bad behavior? Great!
Well the bar can hire Chief's overtime officers from the city or hire private security -- the biggest reason not to draw violence is: they risk exposure to all sorts of liability everytime a patron is injured.

The sad fact is that it is the only area in the state that has that many liquor establishments in about 1 square mile. It isn't surprising to see a couple officers outside a bar at closing time anywhere- to ensure drunks don't drive and fights don't start. Downtown you have over a dozen bars or liquor serving restaurants... extrapolate out from the "couple officers" above and there you have it - viola' - a couple dozen officers. I'd be real hard pressed to justify trying to break up, say 5 different fights with two officers or even with five. Makes no sense to send people into situations where they will get hurt.

Frankly the worst place ever was "Babes" up on Menaul about 7 years ago when they had gangster rap night on Thursdays -- that required about a dozen officers minimum for one small bar every "rap" night and there was a gun recovered from a patron virtually everytime.... there was so much violence there that the ambulance crews used to park nearby and just wait. That bar got shut down over that sort of behavior but since the city is so hot to make downtown "work" they just throw money the problem. Perhaps someone in planning should have thought to tell the investors/bar owners that they ought to spread out across the city instead of putting all their "Eggs" in that one (few block long) basket. No one has ever explained how 15 bars help to re-vitalize an area except from about 8PM to 2AM. For that matter, I often wonder what real estate brokers use as a selling point for those condos -- do they say "Hey do you really like bars?" And if the answer is no what else is there; "It's a short walk to city hall and to old town."
If there's a problem with weekend violence in downtown Albuquerque - if that problem's in fact getting worse - then the problem has endured despite YEARS of heavy police presence along Central. Dozens of cops ready for a riot have assembled at 4th and Central every Friday and Saturday night for years, with a few horse cops lined up outside the bars on Gold for good measure. And yet nothing's changed. Which maybe, you know, kind of suggests that APD and the city need to come up with another solution.

The argument that the problem stems from the density of bars downtown just doesn't wash. Ever been to Austin, Texas? Dozens and dozens of bars and clubs concentrated in the downtown area, all kinds of music including hip-hop, punk, metal, whatever, hundreds of patrons including lots of rowdy college kids, and yet when last call rolls around on the weekends there's hardly a cop in sight unless there's an actual incident. And you know what? They have a LOT fewer problems than we do. I think you could say the same for quite a few of the dozens of US cities with compact downtown entertainment districts (Memphis, New Orleans, etc., etc.). There are really only two ways to explain this fact: either Albuquerqueans are somehow worse and more unmanageable than any other American urbanites, or APD is mishandling the downtown situation. Personally, my vote is firmly for the latter...what impact do you think the weekly spectacle of dozens of police geared up like they're expecting Godzilla has on tourists, convention-goers, curious folks from the suburbs? It sure as hell doesn't encourage them to spend time downtown...the only people APD's massive overkill doesn't intimidate and alienate are precisely the young, drunk, testosterone-fueled "element" they're supposedly there to combat. Get a new plan, APD: the old one doesn't work.
No you are right, the police ought to just leave the area and let nature run it's course. I think anyone that believes that ought to be there for the event -- but wear a helmet.
I've been to Austin and spent a lot of time in New Orleans (had family there). Honestly, in N..Orleans I saw tons of fights every weekend but the cops there simply didnt care or respond. I quite literally saw a guy beat down and then just left to lie on the street as everyone walked by him, this was sort of common there.
I cant believe that anyone can believe that a strong police presence causes people to act out and start fights. Exactly who are these people, do they want to go to jail or get gassed up with pepper spray? Perhaps they are here for a masochists convention?
Perhaps someone here has some actual experience with crowds or mob mentality or maybe a social anthropologist can chime in with a real idea -- other than the popluar one of blaming cops because drunks hit each other?
Musashi, you're dodging the issue. Is APD's over-the-top approach working? Is it making downtown a safe and happy place to be on Friday or Saturday night? If it's not working, shouldn't we try something different? And don't the dozens of cities that manage a far denser and busier night life with a much less visible police presence and without anything like the kind of trouble ABQ has possible provide some examples of what a different approach might look like ?

Once again, no one's suggesting that the cops "let nature run it's course." I think we're simply wondering what would happen if the police simply pulled back a bit, moved their main staging area to the police substation at the Alvarado Transit Center, ran regular foot patrols of a couple guys through the area, and then waited to respond until there were actual incidents to respond to. What if they just tried this, instead of the mass provocation of dozens of ready-to-rumble cops assembled in front of every bar in the area, every single weekend night?

Funnily enough, I am an anthropologist, and my master's thesis addressed the role played by public spectacle and group mentality in creating and enforcing public perceptions. Get dozens of cops downtown every weekend looking like they're expecting a riot and guess what, a drunk, keyed-up crowd will deliver. Other people will assume a riot is in the offing and avoid the area, leaving you with a bunch of pumped-up cops and a bunch of pumped-up drunks. Does that sound like the recipe for a peaceful downtown?

Once again, these are the big questions: is APD's approach to crowd control working, or is it inciting more trouble? Are things getting calmer and more peaceful as a result of APD's efforts? If not, isn't it time they tried something different?
Well, I will say that the downtown "police state" keeps me from going down there on the weekend--I had even considered going to the Handsome Family show but reconsidered when I remembered what downtown is like on a Saturday night. I have to go with PhilO here. All those cops simply send the message that downtown is a dangerous, dangerous place. Maybe they could back it off a bit--the mounted police are particularly intimidating.
For me, I just avoid downtown cus it is "a dangerous, dangerous place." But when I do go downtown, I feel much better knowing that there are 4 million cops down their then just a few. The fact of the matter is also that at anytime a riot can start and also when all the bars let out at 2am (they have to be out the door of the bar at 2am, not just last call) there are a lot of people on the street who have been drinking and fights can and do happen, and something small can get very big, very fast.
You know, it seems to me like the police presence really bloomed back a couple of years ago when the Mayor decided that "bars" (aka the Launchpad & Sunshine, which are the same business) were allowing minors to drink. As a regular at downtown bars, esp the Gold Street crowd & the Launchpad, I know that this is untrue. And I think the Mayor really knew that, too. Turns out his underage daughter was getting picked up by the cops for D&D, who knows what she told her pop, and he decided that she was getting served. (With his amazing sense of entitlement, he no doubt assumed that bouncers would recognize such a celeb as his spawn & let her in out of deference to his "honor"s family. He would be perhaps shocked how little esteem anyone, employee or guest, at the Launchpad or Atomic or Anodyne or or or holds for him or his family.)

But since all of that, the cops have swollen. Their numbers, I mean. It'll go away. After a while oversight will realize that the cash v arrests aren't matching up & things will change.


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