APD union calls for ‘aggressive approach’ to homeless enforcement

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Change could be coming to how Albuquerque handles homeless encampments and nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. The city’s police union says it needs to happen.

This week, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced the city will revisit enforcement regarding homelessness from a “top down approach.”

“I pray that it means a more aggressive approach from the Albuquerque Police Department,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association.

He said officers have been wanting to enforce these laws but a settlement has prevented that for years.

“It’s because of policies like McClendon that have handcuffed police officers,” Willoughby said. “The police department has kind of strayed away from making misdemeanor arrests in certain criteria in certain circumstances.”

The McClendon settlement was reached in 2017. It made it so police could not arrest homeless people committing nonviolent crimes like trespassing or public urination.

“Officers had been told through special order and communication not to go into these homeless encampments and enforce the law,” Willoughby said.

Looking at that language, KOB 4 asked University of New Mexico law professor Joshua Kastenberg if that really was the case. While not impossible, Kastenberg said it does make officer’s jobs more difficult.

“There is enough wiggle room in this settlement so that police have some flexibility but they certainly don’t have the flexibility they had before the settlement,” Kastenberg said.

Kastenberg also said police not wanting to take the chance of getting sued or possibly fired is a real concern.

“The union chief is absolutely right. What does it do to police? It worries them,” he said.

Willoughby believes the wording of the settlement needs to be changed to make it more clear what officers can and can not do.