ACS leaders discuss expansion to 24/7 service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Albuquerque Community Safety Department has been up and running for two years, changing the way people think about first responders.
The ACS teams don’t carry guns, and most don’t have any experience working in law enforcement. But they’re critical in helping people experiencing mental or behavioral health episodes.
“As long as there is no major medical components or any violent or criminal intent or criminal issues, it can go to an ACS responder,” said ACS Director Mariela Ruiz-Angel.
Ruiz-Angel says since the ACS department launched in September 2021, her crews have handled more than 50,000 calls.
In late August, they expanded to graveyard shifts. She says around seven people work those shifts, and they take around 30 to 35 calls a night – adding more than 4,000 additional calls since the expansion.
Leading up to it, 4 Investigates spoke to employees who were worried about going into unpredictable situations overnight.
“We won’t go into homes unless there’s potentially a request from a supervisor, and they have to get permission for a lot of things. One, it just helps us understand where they’re at. Two, we want to make sure a scene is cleared and if a supervisor needs to go out there and do it with a responder, they can do that,” Ruiz-Angel said.
Ruiz-Angel says they haven’t had any serious safety issues, but they are facing challenges, including the lack of resources – especially in the evenings into early mornings.
“Our nonprofits are strapped so we understand that they can’t run 24/7 operations or even weekend operations, it’s tough. We also know that some of our shelters aren’t the best for some of the people’s needs, and sometimes the acute nature of their mental illness,” said Ruiz-Angel.
She says as long as funding continues, their overnight efforts will, too.
“We understand the complexities of homelessness, we understand the complexities of addiction and fentanyl and trauma, and I think what makes ACS special is that we’re willing to be flexible to the needs of our communities,” Ruiz-Angel said.
ACS workers may be getting more help with those resources.
On Wednesday, the City of Albuquerque announced it’s opening a receiving area for first responders at the Gateway Center later this month.
First responders, including ACS workers, will be able to bring homeless there to get connected to social services.
But will this help out with the graveyard shifts?
City officials say eventually they want to have that receiving area open 24/7. For now, it’s just going to be open overnight until they can add more staff.