Santa Fe city councilors have raised concerns about safety issues at local parks as the council prepares to consider an amendment to a multimillion-dollar security contract Wednesday.
During a Public Works and Utilities Committee meeting Monday, Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said she believes the city is concentrating too much of its security resources at city facilities and the downtown area while parks, especially those in southern Santa Fe, are sorely lacking.
The issue comes as Santa Fe police are investigating the death of body discovered Saturday at Franklin E. Miles Park in the midtown area. Police so far have not released the man’s identity but said they consider the death suspicious.
City spokesman Dave Herndon wrote in an email there is no evidence the man was attacked.
“You might not be privy to this, but we get so many calls from constituents about issues in the parks,” Vigil Coppler told fellow committee members. “There are needles, drugs and death, and they are all on the midtown to south side, and I don’t see enough attention in this contract paid to that.”
The city signed a four-year contract with Pennsylvania-based Allied Universal in 2018 to provide security services across the city, including at the Santa Fe Regional Airport. The contract has been amended since then, adding worker hours and facilities.
The total cost for Allied Universal’s services over the four-year period will be about $4.5 million if the City Council approves a $1.57 million amendment to cover security costs for fiscal year 2022.
Allied Universal provides security at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, La Farge Branch Library, the Main Library downtown, the midtown campus, the Municipal Court, the Santa Fe Regional Airport, the Railyard and other sites.
A mobile unit also patrols city parking lots.
The contract allows for resources to be redeployed where they are needed, Herndon wrote, adding a portion of a $319,000 allocation for the downtown Plaza was redistributed to the Railyard and homeless shelters.
Members of the public have long complained about safety conditions at some local parks.
In January, community members found tents along a baseball diamond used by Little League teams at Franklin E. Miles Park, as well as stolen shopping carts and discarded pieces of clothing in the dugouts.
In March, residents living near Las Acequias Park off Rufina Street were rattled by a shooting that sent one teen boy to the hospital. About 20 to 30 people were at the park before the shooting, according to police.
Two 17-year-old boys initially were charged in the shooting, but those charges were dropped after the victims were unable to identify their attackers.
Herndon wrote in the email that police met with the Las Acequias Neighborhood Association twice following the shooting and installed video surveillance.
“I really would like to see more money directed toward park security. We really, really need it,” Vigil Coppler said. “This is a great deal of money, and I cannot support this the way it is drawn up right now.”
The previous contract with Allied Universal included money for security at six or seven parks, according to Sam Burnett, a property maintenance manager for the Public Works Department. But those services were paid for with federal CARES Act funds, which have since dried up.
City Councilor Chris Rivera, chairman of the Public Works and Utilities Committee, said Tuesday he would welcome more security at south-side parks in particular and believed using temporary funds for security created a “false sense of security.”
“People see security for a limited amount of time, then it is gone,” Rivera said. It’s “probably not a good way to fund what could be done on a full-time basis.”
Acting parks Director Melissa McDonald said the city has a $90,000 contract with local firm Chavez Security to cover 12 parks, mostly south of the midtown area, which the city is looking to expand.
Vigil Coppler argued, however, $90,000 wasn’t enough.
Some members of the council suggested postponing a vote on the security contract until it can be changed to address inequities, but Burnett said it must be approved before July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, or the airport will fall out of compliance with federal security requirements.
Councilor Michael Garcia, who requested the city postpone the vote until the end of the month, said he “tends to agree” with Vigil Coppler on the security allocation, especially as more people return to local parks.
“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” Garcia said. “I wish we were not under the gun with the airport situation.”