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Albuquerque Mayor On Trump's Plan To Send Federal Agents Into The City

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now let's turn to the mayor of one of those cities where the administration is sending federal forces. Tim Keller is mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and he is a Democrat.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TIM KELLER: Good evening. Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: As we just heard, the administration says the mission here is different from what we have seen in Portland, Ore., that federal agents will be doing classic crime fighting not arresting protesters. Do you believe them? And would you welcome that?

KELLER: You know, I think this is the real challenge. I mean, we always welcome actual crime-fighting partnership. But instead of - I know the earlier speaker mentioned that this is supposed to be bread and butter. I think we're really worried about more of a bait and switch. And we've seen this from the administration before. And it's - that's what we hear on the front end. And then in the back end, this becomes sort of a secret police situation like Portland. And so we absolutely do not want that. And that's not real crime fighting. It's politics standing in the way of actual police work to make our cities less safe. And as a mayor, I mean, I've been given no formal details or any explanation of what these officers would actually do. And so of course we're very concerned in the absence of that.

SHAPIRO: And so what options do you have? What do you plan to do?

KELLER: Well, you know, for us, I think the first thing is eventually, there usually has to be an agreement signed. And so we're going to be trying to make sure that we stand up for our values as an inclusive city and make sure that that makes sense. Otherwise, you know, we are looking at different legal actions and so forth. But we also want to send a clear message that we're not going to be used as, you know, a pawn in the election and, you know, for sort of gaslighting immigrants and people of color. That's - our city is not about any of that. And I really worry that's what the president's trying to do.

SHAPIRO: But if the proposed agreement is what the attorney general and the president describe and it's not a bait and switch, is that something that you could imagine getting on board with?

KELLER: You know, we actually work with federal partners literally every day on all sorts of different task forces. And so certainly if it fits, you know, within our value set, we would do it. And that's pretty routine here. But what's not routine is the president actually talking about it. And so I think in this context, that makes it even more suspect.

SHAPIRO: Albuquerque does have a much higher violent crime rate than the U.S. as a whole. It seems that federal dollars and manpower could be very useful to help address that problem. Why not ask for that?

KELLER: Well, I think for us, it's important to note that we do have a serious violent crime problem. There's no doubt. We've had that for a long time. But homicides are actually slightly down. So, you know, each city is different. And I think, you know, we want to be painted with our own brush not with some other city's brush. And so for us, we would support any help for constitutional crime-fighting efforts that work with our community. And so we're always open to that. We're actually under a DOJ consent decree, and that has actually heavy restrictions in terms of areas around profiling and so forth. And so if they can meet their own restrictions, I think there's a lot of good work we could do together.

SHAPIRO: Have you been in touch with Chicago's mayor - Chicago's the other city mentioned today - or Portland's mayor who has been struggling with the presence of federal forces for some time now?

KELLER: The mayors actually have a regular call. And so through those calls to the Conference of Mayors, I have been in touch with Chicago, and I also personally talked to Kansas City. And I think we share the same concerns. And we're also sharing the same concept that, yes, we understand we've got to work on violent crime, but we also are very worried about this notion of, you know, progressive mayors being targeted in an election year. And we see what happens in Portland, and no one wants that in their city.

SHAPIRO: Now, while your police chief has condemned the administration's plans, calling it politics standing in the way of police work, the county sheriff was at the White House today for President Trump's announcement and says your citizens deserve more peace and security. Explain this disconnect.

KELLER: Well, for us, you know, a lot of it is political, unfortunately. And for us, we've tried to be clear in our stance in supporting our communities of color and supporting Black Lives Matter and also trying to keep everyone safe. And I think, unfortunately, our sheriff has been on the opposite end of that spectrum and just hasn't really been active in our community on any front. This is the first time we've heard any of this, and our department never got an update about that in advance either. So I think it's either - let's say this. I think at best, he is being used as a political pawn by the president. At worst, he's part of the problem.

SHAPIRO: Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat - thank you for speaking with us today.

KELLER: Appreciate it; thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBERT HAMMOND JR.'S "SPOOKY COUCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.