The Albuquerque Journal did another Sunday front page article on Albuquerque’s crime wave this time concentrating exclusively on the Southeast ABQ area reporting how beleaguered residents want the area cleaned up and are the victims of chronic crime.
(See September 3, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “LIVING DANGEROUSLY; Beleaguered residents wants Southeast ABQ area cleaned up”, page A-1)
The first two sentences of the story set the tone:
“A trip down the dusty sunbaked streets of what the city of Albuquerque has optimistically named the “International District” reveals an area awash in drug deals, fast food trash and discarded needles. It’s common knowledge to the residents of this area that many still call the “War Zone” that it is in the midst of a crime epidemic.”
The Albuquerque Journal did an accompanying article on all the candidates for Mayor and how crime reduction will be their top priority if elected.
What is amazing is that the Albuquerque Journal did a front-page story on the crime in Southeast area of the city and failed to get any comment what so ever from the Mayor, the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chief of Police on what they have done over the years or intend to do to bring down crime in the area.
But then again why ask them what they have done when the answer is “absolutely nothing”.
None of the candidates for Mayor were asked about what they will do to bring down crime in the Southeast area.
It is interesting, but not at all surprising, how the Berry Administration makes a big production about their crime reduction efforts in the downtown business area but pretty much ignores the most vulnerable people who are victims of crime in the poorest area of the city.
EXTENT OF THE PROBLEMS
What was depressing is the following paragraph in the Journal article:
“While only 6.7 percent of Albuquerque’s population lives in the area bounded roughly by Carlisle and Eubank and Lomas and Gibson, the residents experienced at least 27 percent of the city’s murders between 2014 and 2016. And more than 10 percent of the 12,444 addresses in the area have experienced one or more incidents involving violent crime. Theft is rampant, too: One if four addresses have reported a property crime in the past three years. In these neighborhoods, daily life regularly intersects with crime on the streets.”
According to a recent study, in the past three years, the biggest and most violent area of the city is the area roughly from Carlisle to Eubank and from Lomas to Gibson and that part of city accounted for 27 percent of the murders, 20 percent of carjacking’s and 37 percent of nonfatal shootings.
(See August 11, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “The 5 most violent areas to live in Albuquerque”)
The Southeast area of the city has some of our most vulnerable citizens.
The Albuquerque Journal story does not mention that the Southwest area of the city has the highest poverty rate, highest unemployment rate, the highest percentage of illicit drug arrests, the highest high school dropout rates in the city, many factors that contribute to high crime rates.
Highland High School has one of the lowest graduation rates in the city at 49% and the highest dropout rate of any high school.
The Southeast area also has the highest rate of rental units with government subsidized housing as well as many “substandard” properties which many people would classify as “slumlord” properties.
When I was with the city from 2001 to 2009, I saw way too many slumlords property owners in the area charging top dollar to rent their properties to some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Many slumlords refuse to make repairs when needed, even when the health and safety of tenants were at risk, with many tenants reluctant to complain to slumlords for repairs for fear of eviction.
There is a sizable percentage of minorities and people of color who live in the Southeast area including the city’s largest percentage of undocumented or non-United State citizens who live in the area.
It is common knowledge within the immigrant community that undocumented residents are afraid to call law enforcement when they are victimized fearing they may be arrested by United States Customs and Immigration and deported.
What is so very disappointing is that there was an eight (8) year period from 2001 to 2009 where considerable progress was made to bring down crime in the International District, clean up the neighborhoods and make the area safer.
“WEED AND SEED” FEDERAL PROGRAM
From 2001 to 2009, the city and neighborhood activists worked closely with the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office and secured federal grants known as the “Weed and Seed” program.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s “Weed and Seed” program was an innovative and comprehensive approach to law enforcement and community revitalization with the ultimate goal to prevent and control violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in targeted areas.
The program attempted to “weed out” violent crime, gang activity, and drug use and trafficking in target areas, and then “seed” the target area by restoring the neighborhood through social and economic revitalization.
The Federal “Weed and Seed” program had three major objectives:
(1) develop a comprehensive, multiagency strategy to control and prevent violent crime, drug trafficking, and drug-related crime in target neighborhoods;
(2) coordinate and integrate existing and new initiatives to concentrate resources and maximize their impact on reducing and preventing violent crime, drug trafficking, and gang activity; and
(3) mobilize community residents in the target areas to assist law enforcement in identifying and removing violent offenders and drug traffickers from the community and to assist other human service agencies in identifying and responding to service needs of the target area.
By all accounts, the federal “Weed and Seed” program was a success.
All the funding for the “Weed and Seed” program is now gone and the Southeast area has deteriorated immensely.
COMMUNITY ACTIVISM AND INVESTMENT MADE A DIFFERENCE
The Southeast Heights neighborhood associations and area community activists became so enraged at one time with the amount of crime in the area that they organized and did actual “marches to take back the neighborhood” and protest properties that had become “magnets” for crime and demanding that action be taken by the city.
The Albuquerque Police Department use to target the area with “sweeps” and law enforcement tactical plans utilizing its specialized units.
The city’s Safe City Strike Force also targeted hundreds of properties, both residential and commercial in the International District and took civil enforcement action against the properties.
The city’s Planning Department secured federal grants upwards of $1 million dollars for clean ups and board ups of substandard properties by the Safe City Strike Force that were designated as blighted properties.
The Safe City Strike Force took action against violent bars in the area on Central that were magnets for crime.
Many Central bars have hundreds of calls for service a year placing a drain on law enforcement resources.
A few of the bars located on or near Central that were closed or torn down by the Safe City Strike Force include the Blue Spruce Bar, Rusty’s Cork and Bottle, the Last Chance.
Another program that was initiated by the city was the “Metropolitan Redevelopment Pilot Project” for the Southeast area of the city.
The City’s Family and Community Services Department secured funding for the purchase of real property that was designated as “blighted” under federal standards and considered substandard.
The residential real property was purchased at “fair market” value without any city condemnation and substandard structures leveled and the property cleared and then sold for redevelopment.
There were entire areas that were cleared in the Southeast heights and where multi-residential units were constructed, including for low income and subsidized housing.
For the last eight years, little to nothing has been done by the City of Albuquerque to address the serious crime problem in the Southeast area with crime rates spinning out of control.
Eight years later, virtually all the progress to bring down the crime in the Southeast area and clean up neighborhoods is virtually long gone.
The Albuquerque Police Department is seriously understaffed in it felony units and unable to do tactical plans and “sweeps” on a consistent and sustained manner in the Southeast area.
APD has only 430 sworn police in field services handling calls for service throughout the city and on three shifts.
There are many times reported that there are only seven or eight sworn police officers patrolling the Southeast area command in a shift.
For eight (8) years, the Albuquerque Journal and news outlets have failed to hold the administration accountable in any meaningful way regarding our crime rates.
All the candidates for Mayor have come up with crime reduction plans, but only a few discuss the underlying causes of crime.
I am very curious that once the new Mayor is elected, will that person be “hands on” and willing to get their hands dirty and make the necessary tough decisions to get things done when it comes to APD, bring our crime rates down and not just blame our judicial system.
December 1, 2017 cannot come too soon with the swearing in of a new Mayor and the appointment of a new Chief Administrative Officer and new Chief of Police.