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Is ABQ's Bloomberg grant money fighting crime or funding art?

Caleb James
July 06, 2017 10:10 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Remember Mayor Richard Berry's public safety award? The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce gave it to him in part for putting a $1.2 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant toward intelligent ways to fight crime.

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But KOB took a closer look at where the money is really going. It's funding a lot of brainstorming sessions about arts and culture. In fact, two-thirds of the grant from Bloomberg has been used to fund what's called the "ABQ iTeam." Up until just months ago, the group has been paid primarily to brainstorm grand plans for Albuquerque's arts and culture district.

The public cried foul when Berry won a controversial "public safety award" amidst the city's staggering crime rate. Chamber President Terri Cole admitted to KOB last week the organization's leadership had never considered another recipient for the award.  

Cole told KOB it was Berry's forward-thinking use of the grant and the iTeam's establishment to fund new ideas for intelligent crime fighting. Two-thirds of the grant -- about $800,000 -- has been used to fund the four-person team. 

KOB focused on the iTeam, and did a deep dive into the past two years of records according to an audit of progress conducted by the city. According to the report, two-thirds of the iTeam's existence has been spent on funding brainstorming sessions for art projects, public performance, music and murals.

According to the review of the iTeams's first two years of work, those ideas have a pronounced hint of "Austin envy." One of the iTeam's ideas suggests developing an Albuquerque entertainment district to mimic the Rainey Street district in Austin, Texas.

Another idea proposes a live music television show on the city's GOV-TV channel -- using the KIMO Theater as a venue. They suggest it mimic the world renowned "Austin City Limits" program on PBS.

One of these ideas -- identified by the report as one of the best ideas -- is to encourage more murals to be painted in downtown alleyways. The concept suggests the street art will attract more foot traffic, making alleys safer.

The word "crime" is mentioned only once in the 42-page brainstorm. Click here to read the city's Homegrown Commerce Investigation Report. Mayor Berry's Chief of Staff Gilbert Montano said that's because the iTeam's focus was shifted to crime prevention after this report was published in 2016.

"I think we began the discussions with Bloomberg in November, December, January," Montano said.

Montano directly supervises the team. He says the city approached Bloomberg for permission to shift focus to public safety six months ago.

He also said work the team accomplished under its original mission has developed programs to help unemployed youth, which can have a big picture effect.

As far as the team's current mission -- crime prevention -- Montano said the ideas are flowing, and under development.

"What I can point to for the work right now is, the iTeam was almost integral -- if not the most integral product of the alert system created," Montano said. "The iTeam has laid groundwork for research that has never been done in the city."

Montano said the last year of the grant is being used to develop the so-called alert system that identifies repeat offenders and analyzing their behavior.

"And create an algorithm, essentially, that can help the DA and the judges identify repeat offenders.," he said.

The city acknowledges only the final third of the Bloomberg grant to develop the city's iTeam will be used to develop public safety initiatives, but they say the work is moving forward.

Credits

Caleb James

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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