Albuquerque To Begin Using Social Workers - Not Cops - To Respond to 911 Calls For Homelessness, Addiction

Brittany M. Hughes | June 17, 2020
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The City of Albuquerque isn’t defunding their police department. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t making changes – and they may…or may not…be for the better.

City officials announced this week that the New Mexico locale will begin using unarmed social workers to respond to certain 911 calls, particularly those dealing with homelessness and addiction. The change, they hope, will reduce some of the burden on police officers and limit the potential for armed conflict.

The newly formed Albuquerque Community Safety will respond to emergency calls concerning homelessness, substance abuse, addictions and mental health. Tim Keller, the city’s Democratic mayor, said the move will keep police officers who don’t specialize in these areas from responding with force.

"We've placed more and more issues on the plates of officers who are not trained — despite their best efforts and despite some training — they're not totally trained to be a social worker, or to be an addiction counselor, or to deal with things around child abuse when they're just answering a call," Keller said in his announcement. “We should have trained professionals do this, instead of folks with a gun and a badge.”

As for the police department, Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier said he welcomes the change, as it takes a huge load off his officers.

The change comes just days after a black man was shot dead in Atlanta after police responded to a call about an intoxicated man sleeping in his car in a Wendy's parking lot. After failing a sobriety test, video shows 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks resisting arrest and grabbing a taser from of the officers before he was shot twice in the back.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether responding to calls over, say, an obstinate homeless man or a potentially hostile drug addict by sending an unarmed social worker is a good idea. But at least it’s a far cry from dismantling the entire police force.