Sunday, June 29, 2008

Drastic Cuts Await Northern New Mexico Drug Task Force

New Mexico is about to swallow 67% cuts in one of the primary funding sources in the war on drugs. The Byrne JAG grant which in past has provided 2.9 million in funding for combating drug dealing in New Mexico has been reduced to 900,000 by the Bush Administration in the 2009 federal budget. Across the nation the grants have been reduced from 520 million to a mere 170 million to be divided up among all 50 states. Since the Clinton administration law enforcement has faced year after year of cuts in every funding source once provided by the federal government.Northern New Mexico which includes Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Los Alamos and Taos Counties usually combat drug dealers using the Region III drug task force. The Task force is made up of officers from cities and counties in the area and the New Mexico State Police. Each City and County who sends officers to the task force pays the base salaries of their officers. The task force and its federal funding provide equipment, office and civilian support and overtime funding as well as monies to purchase drugs and pay informants. The 67% cuts in funding will create big changes in the way things are done. After a big sigh and a few moments in mourning we will now have to sit down and cope.

Byrne-JAG grants began on February 26, 1988.On that day New York City Police Officer Edward R. Byrne was working witness protection on a witness in a large drug case. While sitting in his patrol car outside the witnesses' home he was ambushed and killed by two gunmen. Police later captured four suspects, the two who ambushed him and two lookouts. The hit was ordered by a gang related drug kingpin from his jail cell.

Later that year the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was passed. As part of the act the U.S. Government launched a Department of Justice initiative titled the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Over the years it provided local law enforcement agencies with the tools, money and officers it needed to combat high level drug dealers, gangs and murders.

The region III task force is the best way to combine our forces and deal with the big picture and target the big fish who deal drugs in Northern New Mexico. I believe several of the city and county chiefs and sheriff's along with State Police, will commit to whatever resources are needed to continue the task force but it will not be easy. With costs for officers on the rise, gas prices on the rise, ammunition expensive and hard to get due to the war, law enforcement is really feeling the crunch. It is only a matter of time before the effects are felt both within the ranks and in the public.

Across the nation U.S. Attorneys General, National Sheriff's Associations, The International Chiefs of Police and others have rallied against the cuts. Usually this works in at least restoring lost funds if not getting increases. This year we have all failed Miserably. Our own Attorney General Gary King petitioned congress along with Attorney Generals from 50 states to restore the funding. I personally spoke to Congressman and Senate Candidate Tom Udall about the need to restore this funding however the cuts were recently passed and attempts by some in congress to restore the funding have failed.

(photo from Democracy for New Mexico )

Some of you, whether you believe in recreational or medical drug use or not, may think that this does not affect you. Some believe the war on drugs is a failure and should be abandoned all together anyway. I believe burglaries and other thefts could increase, homicides and gang activities could grow, and innocent people could die. Mexican cartels which already have taken over Meth, Cocaine, and Heroin supplies could grow into todays American Mafia's. The biggest problem with the Mexican cartels is they are not afraid to kill whether it is on American soil or Mexican. Already hit lists of individuals in New Mexico have been drafted by Mexican Cartels who are not afraid of U.S. Law Enforcement. Mexican criminals are gaining power and could end up making Manuel Noriega look like a Wal-Mart shoplifter compared to this new breed of heavily armed criminal.

When I think of the Bush Administrations handling of the war on drugs and law enforcement in general it reminds me of the time President George stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended. All while standing in front of a Mission Accomplished banner. This was five years ago and our troops still die in Iraq as the war rages on. Has President Bush declared victory in the War on Drugs? Maybe the Federal Government has waived the white flag and surrendered? Either way the Federal Government is wrong. We must continue to attack the problems created by drug addiction, not only with law enforcement but with additional treatment and prevention programs. Funding for treatment and prevention is also declining rapidly and is unavailable to many who need and want it.

Many times the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other and I am hoping it begins swinging back to a place where law enforcement is adequately funded. Until then we will hunker down in our fox holes and hold the enemy at bay until reinforcements arrive.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cops Don't Live Here Anymore.....

Mark Sanders from the Santa Fe Reporter has an excellent cover story in this weeks Reporter detailing the fact that most cops who work in the city and county of Santa Fe, don't live here. Its a very in depth article and Mark did an great job of showing both the effects on the community and the officers themselves. Santa Fe is reaching critical mass as far as law enforcement officers living 30-60 miles away verses them living in the city and county. One item he touched on was the take home car program. It is a very beneficial program used by most police agencies in New Mexico. As both the City and County pass the 60% mark of officers who live outside the county we lose many benefits of the take home car program. Officers are allowed to take home their police cruisers for several reasons.

  1. They can respond directly to an emergency with out going to the police station first when they are off duty and called out in an emergency.

  2. They can respond to accidents, emergencies or reckless driving while en route to and from work and help on situations which they may drive up on.

  3. Police presence in the neighborhoods reduce crime, (the police cars visible in neighborhoods).

  4. Cars assigned to individual officers tends to reduce wear and tear and cars are kept in better condition because one individual is responsible for the vehicle, verses a motor pool type situation where many people use the same vehicle.

  5. Take home vehicles are used as a perk to attract and retain personnel.
    It is an especially effective recruiting tool because other law enforcement agencies in the region have similar vehicle use policies for their officers. It stands to reason that a take-home policy would make an agency more competitive for the most qualified job applicants.

  6. Take home vehicles let officers keep their special equipment, such as SWAT gear, organized and readily at hand.

As you can see from the list of benefits the take home cars make sense. However we lose some of the benefits when officers live 30 -60 miles away.

  1. Officers still help when they encounter crime or accidents on their way to and from work however many times the help comes to citizens outside their jurisdiction so their ability to take action is limited.

  2. There is still an increased police presence in neighborhoods but the benefit is for neighborhoods in other cities and counties which have more affordable housing. The City and County of Santa Fe is paying for safety and security of other communities.

  3. While cars are still better maintained by individual officers versus motor pools the increased wear and tear put on by the increased mileage may negate some of the benefits. Gas costs are also greatly increased by the increased distances to and from home.

As you can see we start to lose the benefits of take home cars as we allow the costs to live here to be beyond the reach of our civil servants. When we look at the true cost to not have affordable housing in Santa Fe city and county it goes beyond simple dollars and cents. We start to encroach on the actual safety and security of our residents. Think about, doctors, nurses, firefighters, teachers and other essential personnel who are often needed in emergencies or whose shortage of available personnel is even worse in Santa Fe due to its high housing costs. What is the true cost of not ensuring we have housing available at all income levels?

There is much controversy over the proposed city transfer tax on high end homes in Santa Fe. The Transfer tax is designed to raise funds for affordable housing projects in the city of Santa Fe. There is probably many ways including the transfer tax to combat this problem and there is much disagreement on the best way to tackle the issue. However, we must tackle the issue. There is more than increased gas costs for take home vehicles on the line. The safety, security and sustainability of the county and city are at stake.

The Santa Fe Reporter article described Aspen, Colo., where the median home cost is so prohibitive (more than $6 million in the first quarter of 2008 for a single family structure) that the city has begun a lottery system for police department heads and emergency responders.“They get them at a reduced cost,” Sgt. Chip Seamans of the Aspen Police Department says. Department employees are eligible for the lottery after five years. The city then determines the cost of the property based on income. So depending on income, a new cop might pay $100,000 and a chief might pay $300,000 for a house. In either case, Seamans says, it is a great deal.“To be able to purchase a home in Aspen proper is a bit of a stretch for any government worker,” Seamans says, noting the starting pay for a rookie is $7 an hour better than in Santa Fe—$22.03.

We have probably already reached the point where we should consider this type of system for Santa Fe. There are those who would oppose this, at least until their home is burglarized, or until the S.W.A.T. team takes 50 minutes to respond to their emergency. I hate to bring up these instances since they could be thought of as scare tactics but it is the truth. Sometimes the truth is scary.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sheriff Greg Solano Endorses Barack Obama

As those of you who read my blog regularly know, I endorsed Hilary Clinton in the Democratic Primary Election. That election has come and gone and as I stated back in January when I endorsed Hillary, Barack Obama was also an excellent candidate and I would have no problem supporting him should he be the nominee. Well, he is now the nominee and not only do I whole heartily support Barack Obama, I ask each of you to do so as well. We need new effective leadership to undo the pain of the Bush Administration, John McCain is a war hero and has served his country well, I will not deny him that. However, he is not that different in his philosophical beliefs and his ties to the Bush Administration.

This country needs a clean break from the failures of the Bush Administration and no one represents that change more than Barack Obama. My wife and I had a chance to visit with him shortly when he campaigned in Santa Fe just before the June Primary. My wife Antoinette was an early Obama supporter and this was one of the few elections we have ever voted for different candidates. The split between my wife and I was very indicative of the split seen across our entire nation as almost half the nations democrats supported one candidate or the other. When I met him I must say I was struck by his magnetic personality and the presence of greatness I felt when around him. I have met several Presidents and Vice-Presidents and I must say he was different than most in the way he made you feel when you spoke to him. I have no doubt he will continue to have that effect on the public and this will carry him to a landslide victory. Most important is that you get out and vote in November no matter who your candidate is, second to that thought is my hope that you will join with me in electing Barack Obama as our next president.

Barack Obama and Sheriff Greg Solano backstage at the rally in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Antoinette Solano with Barack Obama backstage at a rally in Santa Fe New Mexico

P.S. Be sure and visit my Run for Lieutenant Governor Blog to read about my trip to Las Cruces!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A new post on the Solano for Lt. Governor Blog.

I have put up a new post on the Solano for Lt. Governor blog. It details my trip on Tuesday with about 20 other Sheriff's from throughout New Mexico as we toured the desert along the border between Mexico and Las Cruces. It was very informative and gave me a first hand look at the problems Sheriff's in Counties along the border are having.

Here is a pic with me standing on the back of an ATV with Under Sheriff Robert Garcia at the wheel as we tour the desert between Las Cruces and Mexico in Dona Ana County.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Time to Rally around Democratic Congressional Candidates

I have never made any bones about my devotion to the Democratic Party. Therefor it should come as no surprise that I am supporting the Democratic Candidates for Congress. The nice thing is that we actually have some great candidates for our federal offices and even if you put aside the party affiliation we still have the most qualified and best persons for the job.

I started out my support for the general election by helping Tom Udall who is running for the Senate by appearing in a commercial titled "whats right". While filming took a few hours the portion I appear in is only a few seconds as we walk and talk together at a crime scene. Tom Udall has been effective, attentive to his constituents and has proven himself to be man who votes what he believes and not what the lobbyists want or voting the way the wind blows on any given day. He would come to the senate with experience and knowledge to hit the ground running and we could ask no more from our representative.

I am fully supporting Ben Ray Lujan in his quest to fill the 3rd Congressional District seat in Northern New Mexico. He won a landslide race in a hard fought primary and now will face his Republican Challenger in the November Primary. I have known the Lujan family for years and thier devotion and dedication to New Mexico goes without saying. Look to Ben Ray to carry on his fathers legacy to new heights in congress.

The race which I really did not have a hard decision but was slightly torn up about is the 1st Congressional District Race with Democrat Martin Heinrich facing off against Sheriff Darren White of Bernalillo County. My first thought was that it would be great to have a member of Law Enforcement at the federal level. He should understand the needs of Law Enforcement and should be able to effectively argue from experience what the Bush cuts to Law Enforcement programs have done to decimate community policing and drug enforcement across this nation. Unfortunately Sheriff Darren White has shown to be a Bush foot soldier. He has chaired his New Mexico fundraising and failed to stand up to massive cuts in the COPS programs, the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants often called (Byrne-JAG funding). Funding has gone from the billions to millions under the Bush Administration. All the While Darren White has carried President Bushes flag high.

Sheriff White has supported the failed Bush war efforts and has shown no inkling that he will not continue in the path of his mentor President George Bush. I am disappointed, I would have loved to see a Law Enforcement officer bring his or her unique experiences into congress. Perhaps another day we will have a Law Enforcement Officer whom I can support run for congress.

On the other hand I believe we have a great candidate in with Democrat Martin Heinrich he has worked to combat crime and graffiti in Albuquerque as a city councilor and worked to pass a local ordinance in Albuquerque on an issue I fully supported which was increasing the minimum wage. On the war in Iraq he wants to undertake creative and genuine diplomatic initiatives with all countries in the region so we can bring our troops home as soon as possible. And, he states we must make sure our returning soldiers receive the quality health care and benefits they deserve.

In the 2nd Congressional District general election race I also support and ask you to support Democrat Harry Teague . This district although predominantly democrat is the district which elected Steve Pierce a republican. We can send another strong message to Washington by electing Harry Teague in this district.

I hope you will all join me in supporting these candidates. We must send a strong message to the Republican Party and the Bush administration that we do not accept failure, not the failures of the war, the failure of the American Economy, and the failure to prevent the gas crisis we are facing. In my next post I will discuss the Presidential Race.