City, County officials toss around idea of combining public safety

(KRQE/File Photo) - APD police car closeup
(KRQE/File Photo) - APD police car closeup

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Officials with the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are tossing around the idea of combining public safety.

That means one big law enforcement agency and one big fire department. No boundaries for emergency responses within Bernalillo County.

This idea has come up before but on a larger scale of combining City-County governments. This time, officials are looking at only police and fire.

City Councilors Ken Sanchez and Isaac Benton are spearheading the effort.

“I just feel that it’s time, I think we need to turn the page with the Albuquerque Police Department and when it comes to public safety, there should not be boundaries,” Sanchez told KRQE News 13.

The discussion came up Thursday night at a joint commission meeting the involved some councilors and some commissioners.

In theory, APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office would combine and so would Albuquerque Fire Department and the Bernalillo County Fire Department.

Councilor Sanchez points to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department as a model, focusing the majority of his concerns on the law enforcement aspect of the merge.

Sanchez says a consolidation of these departments could mean big savings for all and easier recruitment for police, which is down in terms of officer numbers.

No one at the meeting seemed explicitly opposed to the idea, but most were cautious — suggesting a study be conducted first. Among those who attended were the AFD and BCFD chiefs. Sheriff Manuel Gonzales was there, too.

“We believe that the most responsible…being good stewards to the taxpayers is to best spend their money with not duplicating services,” Sheriff Gonzales said.

Sheriff Gonzales said the first priority is meeting the needs of the community. Sanchez agreed with that.

APD Chief Gorden Eden wasn’t at the meeting Thursday night because of a prior conflict. Eden and his staff were meeting with Dr. James Ginger, the APD Department of Justice monitor.

On Friday, the City released this statement in response:

The prospect of unifying the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County public safety departments is thought-provoking. We certainly are interested in revisiting City-County unification to eliminate inefficiencies, duplication of efforts, equitable allocation of tax revenues and other important issues. We look forward to reviewing a full feasibility and issue study outlining the ramifications of this substantial undertaking and the impact it would have on the overall safety of our community.”

It’s unclear if voters on either side would have a say. Sanchez said it would be a massive undertaking and could be a year-long process if it goes to legislators.

Over the last 60 years, City-County government unification proposals have gone before voters before but were ultimately rejected. The latest time was in 2004.

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