Home News Local News Municipal Election Candidate Forum; Mayoral candidates focus on police and homeless

Municipal Election Candidate Forum; Mayoral candidates focus on police and homeless

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2018 Mayoral Candidates Del Jurney, Natasha Mackey, and Sergio Gonzalez engage in an interview with Pecos Valley Broadcasting while in the Pueblo Auditorium’s spin room Tuesday night. Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh did not stop by the spin room. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo Illustration)

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On the subject of crime from Tuesday evening’s candidate forum, those aspiring to acquire or maintain the Roswell mayoral seat gave their own position of the Roswell Police Department, as well as their take on the ongoing homeless issue.

The question raised by moderator Rick Kraft was prefaced with how the topic of crime and drugs are always “a great drum to beat” for a candidate election. With the consideration of the city’s finances and budgetary constraints, Kraft asked where one would be able to find the funds to fight these battles related to crime, and how they would be able to successfully win said battles.

While Natasha Mackey referred to crime statistics, she did not necessarily mention any specific data. However, the mayoral candidate praised the RPD’s Chief of Police, Phil Smith, and mentioned how a greater population of Roswell would likely come with additional funding for programs to help cut down on crime-related issues.

“So in our community — so, of course, we’ve looked at the crime statistics, and we’ve heard the negativity around the crime rate in Roswell,” Mackey said. “I definitely believe that we do have an amazing chief of police who has innovative programs and idea to move our community forward.

“As we are approaching the 2020 census, I know that it’s going to be critical for us to be a community of over fifty thousand. What that does is — of course, it opens us up for opportunities for economic development, it also opens us up as a community for additional funding.

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“If we can get that census, those numbers up, I know that we can get more funding and we can fight many of the problems and challenges that we have with drug addictions, crimes, education — many different arenas.”

Sergio Gonzalez told Kraft and viewers much of his concerns and concerns pertaining to police have been mentioned in the Daily Record’s 2018 Voters Guide. Within Gonzalez’s original response, he states how Roswell can better protect citizens from violence and property crimes with the city continuing enhancements and incentives for Roswell police officers. The mayoral candidate also suggested a recruit boot camp exchange program for police recruits stationed at Santa Fe to spend at least two years in Roswell. Gonzalez also mentioned a method to provide the RPD with more police on the streets.

“I’ve stated my concerns and ideas on the candidate questionnaire,” Gonzalez said. “What I stated was that — and this is just an idea I’m throwing out there — I would like to see the police department, and I know some of you might not agree out there with me — but maybe, pull some of the police department from the Roswell Independent School District schools until we have enough officers on the streets, and in the meantime, move in private securities to do the job.

“We haven’t a big crime, murder, or anything like that in the schools for a while, but until we can bring up the police department up in their numbers, I’d be willing to put the police departments definitely back in schools. I recommend that police officers rotate their police officers as well. I’ve seen some of the police officers there at some of the schools for almost two years already, so I think it’s time to rotate them out, just because of complacency.”

Afterwards, the Daily Record asked Gonzalez for more info on his suggestion to replace police officers assigned to schools with private security.

“That’s five more officers in the street,” he said. “Where is big crime happening? In the street, right? I’ve been reading about it in the paper for a long time already. It seems like there’s a murder or something going on every other week.

“That’s something I didn’t tell the individual candidates when I spoke to them briefly in person, but I have spoken to other leaders here, and some of them, they’re not on board. But, some of them are.

“I’ve seen the same police at the school, going on two years already. Coming from a military background, when you’re at a place for a long time, it means, one, he’s outstanding, or two, he’s in trouble or something. So, I think that we need to have a rotation.”

The newspaper clarified with Gonzalez the RPD currently has two School Resource Officers (SROs) and one SRO sergeant, and that much of the SRO staff has changed since August 2017.

According to the RPD, SROs are fully-commissioned police officers who can be used for patrol when needed.

Gonzalez later said, if the city is going to have police officers at schools, it needs be when more police are available.

“And if we are going to have police officers, I want to make a point that we should have some of the best officers there, at the schools,” he said. “What I mean are seniors, like sergeants, not lower legs — that’s my solution to having police officers on the street, that’s all.”

In Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh’s answer, he mentioned the broken windows theory, a belief that proposes areas which are physically deteriorated are more prone to disorder and crime-related incidents. Kintigh has previously told the Daily Record of the concept in a June 14, 2017, interview.

“I’m an advocate of fighting crime under the broken windows concept,” Kintigh said. “We don’t have time for me to go into that right now, but the gist of it is this: You focus on cleaning up the disorderly-ness of a community. That’s why I’ve been adamant about tearing down derelict structures — actually, they don’t have to be torn down, they can be fixed up if you’re willing to do that as the property owner, but do not neglect them and leave them there.

“When they are left to degrade, they become magnets for criminal activity. They affect the neighborhood, they affect the community in a seriously detrimental way.”

The incumbent mayor also used his time to address domestic violence.

“It has to stop,” he said. “Half of our murders are domestic violence. You cannot go on hurting the ones in your household because you get frustrated. That requires a cultural change. And drugs? I’m an old narc. I’m not a psychologist, I’ve just worked dope for twenty years. And I believe in my heart, drug usage begins in an effort to self-medicate for emotional distress. I’m anxious, I’m hurt, I’m not pretty, I’m not popular — I’ll do dope — we got to help our young people with better behavioral health.”

Former Roswell Mayor Del Jurney recalled a time during the 2014 election.

“Roswell was making great strides when it came to crime,” Jurney said. “We had the most officers, after being 25 officers down, we had more officers prepared to be on the streets than in the previous 15 years. Our officers were better trained, our officers were better equipped, and the staffing was where it needed to be.”

Jurney said, at that time four years ago, the finances necessary to run the RPD were available.

“What happened was, the revenues that were in place to continue with the needs of the police officers were diverted in order to go into the general fund, the gross receipts tax for public safety was taken away, and it was put into making sure that our financial condition was a little more acceptable,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, that it’s not necessarily about the money, as it is about the support. The moral support that you give your officers. When you negotiate contracts, you got to fulfill the obligation that you make. There’s a real tie between a financial component and a moral component when it talks about the value of police departments.”

After the forum, Jurney mentioned to the Daily Record and the Pecos Valley Broadcasting the ongoing disagreement between the city and the Roswell Police Officers’ Association (RPOA).

“Everybody talks about how we support our police department, and we want what’s best for them and that they’re our heroes, but yet when it came time to honor the negotiations that have already been agreed to, we turned our back on them,” Jurney said. “We did not give them the step increases, we did not give them their stipend increases, and we have not taken care of those individuals, and quite honestly, many of them are leaving because of the very fact that morale is down, and they’ve lost confidence and trust in the fact that an agreement made by city hall doesn’t necessarily equate to an agreement that’s honored. And I think that’s a very unfortunate situation.”

The homeless

The fifth question Kraft asked candidates during the mayoral forum was prefaced with how the homeless issue has repeatedly been addressed in media outlets, and mentioned the death of Paul Parks, a homeless man who had previously lived in the Berrendo Riverbed, was found dead Jan. 11, outside city limits.

Kraft then asked what role they believe the city should take in resolving the homeless issued and whether the responsibility falls on the city or by private enterprises.

Jurney said the city has a huge responsibility in this issue, but not on their own.

“My belief is that the city needs to provide a facility for homeless, and I believe that nonprofits need to operate it,” he said. “There is a location, and I’m surprised that the city hasn’t explored the opportunity or the possibility of utilizing it. It’s large enough for a hundred plus. It gives the separation from men and women and children. It is secured by fencing. It provides an opportunity for those that want to stay in tents until the weather too cold or too hot or too wet.

“We have several examples, very successful examples of city-owned buildings, the Boys and Girls Club, for example, that’s then operated by a nonprofit. We have services that we provide to all of our citizens, and the fact that we have — maybe not necessarily turned our back, but not given the full attention that it deserves to these individuals who have a need is a little troubling to me. One of the first thing that I would do as mayor would be to address the situation, and put it into a better condition, into a better situation so that our homeless are safe and secure.”

The newspaper later clarified with the suggested location, which is a large building the city uses for storage just south of the corner of South Lincoln Avenue and East Second Street, Jurney said.

Mackey said the death of Parks was “a definite tragedy” for the community.

“On behalf of the city council, as a member of the city council, I want to apologize to our community that we couldn’t come up with a resolution,” Mackey said. “And apologize to the family of that deceased man as well.

However, according to Roswell City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best, council members on not allowed to speak on behalf of city council, but rather, their constituents. Mackey continued.

“As a city leadership, I believe that we definitely need to be fostering those partnerships with organizations, with other community leaders who have a passion in their area of interest so that we can undergird them and partner with them and help them to realize some of the goals that they have set as organizations.”

Mackey described the Roswell Homeless Coalition (RHC) as a group of passionate people who have worked with the homeless in the community and understand the population.

“There’s a misperception that people think it’s all about mental illness, and that’s the only reason why people find themselves in a homeless situation, but the reality is, in our school district, we have children who don’t have permanent places to stay, because they don’t have family or they opt to move from house to house and so that is considered a homeless situation. We have single parent-families who can’t make ends meet — they’re working two and three jobs, and they still aren’t able to find viable housing because of the housing market here in Roswell. And so, we want to, number one, break through that perception, those barriers concerning our homeless, and join together as a community, the Roswell Homeless Coalition, we need to support them, undergird them. The city has many assets and many properties that are sitting vacant that can be used, but we need your help. We need the community’s help to join together.”

Gonzalez, a Marine veteran, said if elected mayor, he would make sure the homeless issue “immediately gets taken care of.”

“It’s mind-boggling to me how there is a large number of homeless in Roswell,” Gonzalez said. “When I first read about it in the paper, I was mind-boggled, and I still am. I thought it was maybe a dozen, and it’s unsatisfactory. We need to do something to help them as soon as possible. This cannot wait any longer. The homeless cannot go through another winter. We just need to come together to figure it out, and we need to do it fast.

“This is very — I really care about this because, like some of those are veterans out there, right? I’m sure they are. Yes, some of them probably have mental illness, not just veterans, but other homeless people — they need our help, and I don’t see a lot of people moving on that. So I’m glad that this opportunity came up where I can make a difference and make sure that they are helped. With that being said, yes, I do believe that the city should take ownership of that until we can find a provider that can take over.”

Kintigh said almost two years ago, the RHC, which he described as “an awesome group of committed people of faith,” came to him for help.

“The challenge was that Rivers of Life, the existing homeless shelter that we’ve had here for many years, was not functioning well,” Kintigh said. “This is not the time, nor is there any need to go into why, but it was not. And people were not choosing to stay there. The coalition felt the need for a new facility, a new team to put it together, and I concurred with them emphatically.

“We had a meeting with staff and selected city councilors to try and start the process. That was a long, arduous journey — multiple meetings. They culminated a public meeting at the civic center. There was 80 people, perhaps some of you were there.

Kintigh said as a result from the public meeting, the city formed an ad hoc committee to come up with a potential homeless facility location in the city.

“Long story short, the governing body could not concur or agree on any city-owned property. This was a knockdown drag-out,” he said. “The good news is, however, that Rivers of Life has now agreed to let the Homeless Coalition operate that facility. It has been remodeled, fumigated, cleaned up. My family and I have personally invested in buying new mattresses. This will be a new facility, and it exists now.”

To read the Roswell Homeless Coalition’s response to the mayoral candidates’ answers, read below.

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

Roswell Homeless Coalition’s forum response

(Reporter’s note: The Daily Record requested a response from the Roswell Homeless Coalition, RHC, following the responses from mayoral candidates on the subject of the homeless. While the intention was to include their response in the story, we believed it to be fairer to include the organization’s entire statement.)

The Roswell Homeless Coalition is comprised of community organizations, religious groups, and passionate individuals that are all seeking a solution to end homelessness in Roswell. The RHC conducted a recent point in time survey which identified the rising number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness within our community.

Simply put Roswell, New Mexico is experiencing a homeless crisis. To complicate the crisis the City of Roswell has essentially criminalized homelessness by giving citations to individuals that have set up a tent or erected a structure. Penalties include up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. This has been enforced without giving the homeless an alternative. As an organization, we understand the current ordinances in place by the city, and the need to enforce the law. However, over the last two years, we have been met with great resistance for a permanent location from multiple layers of government as well as citizens.

The process required to establish the planning and zoning guidelines for a shelter go well beyond the position of mayor. While many have expressed verbal compassion for the Homeless in our city, the actions do not follow the verbiage. We consistently encounter the mindset of “Not In My Backyard.” Many have demanded a solution from the city, which is followed by resistance to make sure it is not near them personally.

The state of New Mexico was allocated over 8 million dollars in funding to help combat the homelessness situation throughout New Mexico. Roswell has not seen any of the allocated money. We have learned that The City has to request the money from the state. The RHC is willing to help the city with that process, as it will enable the RHC to work towards rapid rehousing of individuals. After the process of finding property in the city stalled the Roswell Homeless Coalition entered into a lease agreement with the Rivers of Life Board to renovate and reopen the two shelters within the six-month timeframe given by the city.

Through the donations of Generous individuals and businesses in our city, we are rapidly approaching the opening of the shelters. Although this is a step in the right direction, this will only help a fraction of the people that are living in homelessness within our community due to the complex nature of homelessness. Currently, the coalition’s only form of funding is through community donations, and we have need of establishing long-term funding to be consistent in serving the homeless population of Roswell. We have a meeting In April with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness out of Santa Fe. They will visit Roswell to help guide the Roswell Homeless Coalition on how to access the allocated funds in the future. In order for the RHC to be successful, we need the support of the city and its officials.

Criminalizing the homeless is not the answer to the crisis in the city of Roswell. It does not change the fact that they are still homeless and have nowhere to go. The RHC wants to help give people a hand up.

The RHC has begun to study the legal ramifications for Laws punishing people for sleeping outside. Many of these Laws have been challenged in courts as a violation of homeless persons’ civil rights. Some courts have found that laws punishing the life-sustaining activities of homeless people amounts to the criminalization of homeless status and in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

On Aug. 6, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest brief in Bell v. Boise, a lawsuit filed by the Law Center in federal district court on behalf of six homeless plaintiffs who were convicted under laws that criminalized sleeping or camping in public. The statement of interest advocates for the application of the analysis set forth in Jones v. City of Los Angeles. In Jones, the court considered whether the city of Los Angeles provided sufficient shelter space to accommodate the homeless population. The court found that on nights when individuals are unable to secure shelter space, enforcement of anti-camping ordinances violated their constitutional rights.

The RHC from the beginning has worked and continues to work diligently to provide a viable solution to our city. Our desire as an organization is to continue to be aid an to our city and those who run it. Yet we also recognize that it is time to cut the proverbial red tape. True Leadership is difficult in that the Leader will never please everyone. The Longer the red tape drags out the process we will have more stories like Paul Parks.

On Jan. 10, 2018 a homeless individual (Paul Parks) died only weeks after leaving his hut he had been living in for 5 years. After the implementation of the cities no tenting ordinance, he was arrested and given citations. As a result, he then moved outside city limits in December to avoid future punishment.

In order to avoid jail and monetary fines, Paul ultimately paid with his life. It is time to move beyond rhetoric and red tape. We need realistic planning and zoning guidelines in order to move forward towards a permanent site that would allow us to better serve both the homeless and the City of Roswell.

As an organization, we were encouraged to see that all four mayoral candidates acknowledged this issue, and how they all agreed that City should help assist a nonprofit in efforts to combat this challenging situation. We look forward to working closely with the next mayor and their team.