Friday, August 17, 2007

APS Board Tentatively Sticks to Police Plan

By Andrea Schoellkopf, Journal Staff Writer

The Albuquerque school board is considering keeping its police force status quo despite numerous recommendations for change.
A four-member majority of the board endorsed a plan Thursday to continue the current police arrangement— an unaccredited security force— overriding two recommendations by its administration and a community commission that spent the summer studying the issue.
Ultimately, some felt the lines were being drawn on the issue of whether to arm officers full time.
Currently, APS police officers are only allowed to carry guns after school hours, and must keep the arms locked in their vehicles. If there is an emergency requiring a weapon during school hours, the officer must first obtain permission from the APS superintendent.
Superintendent Beth Everitt— who recommended the change— said the current force already has commissioned officers, and city and county police now carry guns in the schools anyway.
"We're more liable for them not to be a police department because of the way it's already set up," Everitt said. "We need to either be fish or fowl."
The final vote will go before the school board in a regular meeting later this month.
"I feel, quite frankly, we wasted a whole lot of time," said Paul Broome, education adviser for Mayor Martin Chávez and a member of the commission, which was created after an APS audit found problems with the district's police department under former chief Gil Lovato.
Board members appeared close to supporting the committee's recommendation until Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White— a commission member who supported a fully authorized police department— told the board he didn't think legislation would be approved that would permit a school district police force.
Board president Paula Maes suggested that the district continue with its current force while pursuing other options.
"I don't think it's going to make much difference whether we (create a stand-alone police force) or continue the way we are," Maes said. "We had a police department that works. We had a leader that didn't work."
She said the board has already approved the commission's recommendation for upgraded police equipment, and other considerations for higher pay could go into effect with or without a certified department.
Maes said she felt compelled to stay with the current force after White said Thursday that APS may not be able to have a full police force until 2010. Her motion drew support of the anti-gun board members— Robert Lucero, Berna Facio and Dolores Griego— with Marty Esquivel and Mary Lee Martin voting against.
APS has asked the state Attorney General's Office to issue an opinion on the legality of a school district police force.
The policy committee meeting was moved into the main boardroom to accommodate the nearly 90 attendees, most of whom were there in regard to the police policy.
Opponents— waving hand-made posters arguing against any guns in the schools— argued that students should be consulted on the matter.
But those who supported the changes were not pleased.
"You will have my resignation by the end of the month," APS officer Simon Beltran said. "And there are probably two to three officers that will go with me."

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