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Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque Community Safety Department – Albuquerque, NM

In June 2020, the city of Albuquerque approved the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) department, adding it to the existing first responder system wherein calls are dispatched through 911. The program launched on September 8, 2021, with three teams of responders operating throughout the city. Beginning as a community-led initiative, ACS is now a cabinet level department and provides crisis aid, welfare checks, and referrals for people in need. ACS responders also offer transportation to providers of mental health, addiction, shelter, and case management services. As the program grows, ACS leaders will continue assessing for potential expansion of the program’s focus and services.

The following information outlines ACS’s efforts since it began; it follows the sections of the toolkit. Readers can connect to other parts of the toolkit by clicking the headers for more details.

Smiling social workers in Albuquerque, NM

Photo credit: Adria Malcolm

 

Community Engagement and Collaboration

  • Albuquerque city officials engaged extensively with local communities to better understand their needs as they were developing ACS. The results of that engagement were summarized in the January 2021 Community Engagement Report.
    • One way they sought out feedback was through the ACS Community Input Survey, which was sent to community members. Officials received 2,858 responses and more than 1,000 public comments that ultimately informed the community engagement report.
    • In 2020, ACS leaders also hosted 7 virtual engagement events, comprised of more than 25 community stakeholder groups.
  • The city also established the ACS Planning Committee for initial planning and decision making. The committee, which includes key community leaders and experts, will eventually transition into an ACS Steering Committee to provide long-term guidance.
  • More information on ACS’s community engagement process can be found by watching a recording of a conference session titled “Building and Engaging Community Power: The Importance of Community Engagement.” This session was part of a national Taking the Call Conference exploring innovative community responder models.

Needs Assessment

  • To understand the needs of Albuquerque communities, ACS officials partnered with local stakeholders and other organizations to host lectures, listening sessions, and panel discussions. They also invited community members most affected by current first responder systems to participate in this discussion.
  • ACS met with a wide variety of community stakeholders to determine which services were already being provided in the community and which gaps it could successfully fill, including:
    • Community Policing Councils
    • Mental health organizations, such as the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the Behavioral Health Provider Association, and the Black Mental Health Coalition
    • Homeless groups, such as the Homeless Advisory Council
    • Youth advocates, such as Kids’ Cabinet
    • City boards and commissions, such as the Albuquerque Human Rights Board, American Indian and Native Affairs (AIAN) Commission, and the Albuquerque Domestic Violence Task Force
    • Health care organizations, such as the EMS Medical Control Board and the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center

Call Triaging

  • As a part of the Albuquerque first responder system, ACS receives and triages calls primarily through 911. It also receives calls through referrals and the non-emergency 311 line, with an option to self-dispatch calls that responders believe are appropriate. Additionally, ACS is the primary stakeholder in the rollout of the 988 national crisis line in New Mexico.
  • Albuquerque 911 operators use a 1-5 (A-E) scale system for prioritizing calls, with “1” or “E” category as the highest urgency. Calls sent to ACS receive a specific ACS call type and priority level (1-3).
  • ACS responders address lower-acuity calls within the 1-5 categorization related to mental health, substance use, inebriation, public disturbances, suicide, and homelessness when there is not a threat to responder safety.
  • As of early 2022, ACS is planning to have 24/7 coverage in the field.

Program Staffing

  • ACS reports directly to the city’s Chief Administrative Office. ACS teams are divided into two divisions: A Mental & Behavioral Health Response Division and a Community Response Division.
    • The Mental & Behavioral Health Response Division includes:
      • Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) clinicians (4 positions): Since 2018, MCTs had contracted with the APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. ACS brought the four clinicians working with APD in-house by hiring them as city employees.
      • Behavioral Health Responders (2 supervisors and 24 positions): These responders address mental and behavioral health issues, inebriation, and homelessness, as well as other incidents that do not require police, fire, or an emergency medical services’ response.
    • The Community Response Division:
      • Street Outreach and Resource Responders (2 responders): These responders provide street outreach to people experiencing homelessness.
      • Community Responders (10 responders): These responders provide assistance for minor injuries or incapacitation, abandoned vehicles, non-injury accidents, needle pickups, or other calls for service.
      • Community-Oriented Response Assistance (CORA) Responders (1 position to coordinate efforts): This is a multidisciplinary group of first responders and mental health professionals who provide outreach to communities affected by tragedy and violence.

Use of Data to Inform Decision Making

  • Based on community feedback, ACS does not make personal information that responders collect accessible to law enforcement. While ACS uses APD’s records management system for data security and call tracking, it has separate forms that APD cannot access.
  • Some key performance metrics collected by ACS include (Note: this is not a complete list.):
    • Monthly call volume
    • Number of coordinated responses, events, and outreach with internal and external partners
    • Number of cross-departmental referrals
    • Number of employees who utilize continuing education, tuition reimbursement, or certification programs paid by ACS
    • Number of needs addressed by category (e.g., unmet basic needs, mental health, drug, or alcohol use)
    • Number of referrals by category
    • Number of repeated calls for the same individual or location
    • Number of transports
    • Percentage of calls involving co-response with law enforcement
    • Percentage of calls involving a person experiencing homelessness
    • Response outcome
    • Response time

Safety and Wellness

  • Responders are only dispatched if the call indicates no immediate threat or danger, and they are instructed to leave a scene if an individual shows aggression or resistance. APD officers can also request ACS responders after they have secured the scene.
  • Responders usually take calls in pairs. If there is a potential for danger, MCT clinicians will co-respond with a uniformed Crisis Intervention Unit police officer.
  • ACS provides de-escalation training to all responders, as well as partners with APD and Albuquerque Fire Rescue to provide additional safety training.
  • Responders have multiple ways to communicate, including the radio dispatch system used by other first responders that allows them to request backup, as well as an assigned cell phone.
  • Radios provided to ACS responders have an emergency button to request rapid police response if they are unable to talk. The radio dispatch system also allows dispatchers and ACS administrative staff to track responders’ location and status.
  • ACS has a weekly staff debrief session to help navigate challenges or issues that responders are facing, as well as explore areas for improvement.

Financial Sustainability

  • In Fiscal Year 2021, Albuquerque launched ACS using $1.2 million from the city’s unreserved general fund balance, along with an additional $1.2 million in existing city personnel from the APD and the Family and Community Services Department.
  • ACS’s general fund budget for Fiscal Year 2022 is $7,730,000 for 61 positions.
  • ACS is also seeking other funding opportunities and was awarded a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Legislative Strategies

  • ACS was formed from an initial public safety group created by Mayor Tim Keller’s administration in 2018. It was announced as an additional branch of the city’s public safety system in 2020.