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.