4 Investigates: Albuquerque Community Safety Department’s new graveyard shift

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Community Safety Department is trailblazing a new way to think about first responders.

They started as a small group, but their goal is to have 130 people within ACS. The department wants to hire a couple dozen administrators and they want to have 90 people work in field services as on-the-ground responders.

Much of the work is responding to calls about the city’s homeless population.

Soon, ACS will be adding a graveyard shift to respond to calls 24/7 – and that raises some safety concerns.

According to the latest citizen survey, one out of every three people feel unsafe after the sun goes down in Albuquerque. Seven out of 10 residents say the city is not doing enough to address homelessness.

“Going to a welfare check at, you know, four in the afternoon is one thing,” said Quinn Mulhern, an ACS responder. “Going at 2 a.m. is a completely different animal.”

Mulhern, Crystal Little, and Lanette Valdez are all ACS first responders and members of the new ACS union – the Communications Workers of America Local 7076.

“The union was created to have a seat at the table in these discussions,” Valdez said.

“Right now, we are kind of alarmed at what’s happening,” Mulhern said. “The ACS administration is unilaterally deciding to go forward with the graveyard shift.”

They provided a union survey that shows 90% of responders feel the city’s safety policies don’t do enough to protect graveyard shift employees.

Another survey that includes written responses shows what some union members are feeling:

“This all feels forced on responders.”

“This is not what was presented when I was hired, if it had been, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”

“ACS is going to lose a lot of people.”

Since 2021, 16 responders have left the job. To put that in perspective, the department now has 57 people in field services.

“That is a bit of a red flag,” Little said.

The director of ACS, Mariela Ruiz-Angel, sees it differently.

“When I was asking the data people to get this number, and they were like, ‘It’s 16,’ I was like, ‘Show me,'” Ruiz-Angel said. “Because it doesn’t feel like that. Right? I’m going to be really honest. We’re hiring faster than people are leaving.”

Ruiz-Angel is leading the department through a bunch of firsts and she acknowledges that the job is not for everyone.

“I just need somebody who knows when to step back and say, ‘Nope, not my call,'” Ruiz-Angel said. “I need somebody who can run away – that’s what we tend to look for. Can you leave the scene and not freeze up?”

Ruiz-Angel says the department is about to enter unknown territory.

“I’m not going to try and sell this in a way that’s got a beautiful bow on it – going graveyard is very new for everybody nationwide,” she said.

ACS is still working out the kinks, but she says they have done graveyard test runs and those have revealed some nighttime adjustments are needed.

“We may not go into peoples’ homes the way we do today for welfare checks, right? Our cars are going to look a little bit more different. Our clothing is going to look a little more different,” Ruiz-Angel said. “People like you to look a lot more official at 2 a.m. in the morning.”

Ruiz-Angel also said ACS responders will probably not be going out to large encampments at that time of night.

“I think that people are still fearful,” Ruiz-Angel said.

She pointed out that only 2% of their 40,000 calls for service have needed a police response.

“It’s only been in, probably, the last couple of months,” Ruiz-Angel said. “That we’ve had a situation where somebody has grabbed a responder or swung at a responder.”

There is no playbook for what comes next. Graveyard shifts are set to start at the end of August.

Click on the video above for the full 4 Investigates report.