Drug dealing, home burglaries, violent crime, package thefts, car break-ins, homeless taking up permanent residence in abandoned homes, broken windows, front and back yards full of trash and debris, yards full of weeds, inoperable vehicles parked in front yards, graffiti vandalism are all signs of a declining neighborhood and contribute to declining property values.
Because of our high crime rates, Albuquerque is suffering from a serious decline of many of our neighborhoods, including a few areas that are considered financially well off with high end homes.
The Ridgecrest area is one of those areas reported on by KRQE News 13.
“Buildings that were empty, the blight that had spread throughout some of the busier streets, and yeah the crime. The crime was palpable. … There was an absolute decline in the neighborhood,” said Helen Petropoulos to KRQE News 13.
Dave Hancock who also lives in the Ridgecrest area said:
“It got us to sort of look around and go, ‘do we wanna move or what’s really going on? We all get numb to things that go on and we’re into our day-to-day routine, and so you look around and all of a sudden, the park lights not working – well how long hasn’t it worked? Cause you’re not paying attention to what’s going on.”
Instead of moving, the Ridgecrest neighbors decided to take “crime fighting” into their own hands.
The Ridgecrest neighbors got to know each other better and exchanged phone numbers and started a neighborhood watch program.
The neighbors started to patrol their neighborhood together at night.
When the Ridgcrest neighbors spotted squatters living in an abandoned home and reported it to the city, the city did not do anything about it.
The neighbors bought wood and boarded up the windows themselves and put a lock on the gate.
When the neighbors spotted a car cruising the block at night with no lights on, casing homes, they called 242-COPS and a patrol car showed up right away.
This is what you call “citizen activism” and taking back your neighborhood and it works.
IT HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY, NOR THIS BAD
According to the Channel 13 news report, it was six years ago that the Ridgecrest residents began to notice a real decline in their neighborhood.
Six years ago was the same time that the Safe City Strike Force was gutted and dismantled by the Berry Administration and after Darren White took over the program as the Director of the Safe City Strike Force.
In 2001, the Safe City Strike Force was formed to combat blighted, substandard residential properties that had become magnets for crime.
Thirty to forty-five representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Planning Department Code residential and commercial code inspectors, Family Community Services and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office participated and comprised the strike force.
The Safe City Strike Force was directly under the City Legal Department with a Deputy City Attorney in charge to enable it to take court actions and negotiate settlement agreements.
For eight years, seventy to one hundred fifty properties a week, both residential and commercial properties, would be reviewed by the Strike Force.
The Safe City Strike Force would handle referrals from the general public, neighborhood associations, the Mayor and the Albuquerque City Council.
The Safe City Strike Force routinely prepared condemnation resolutions for enactment by the Albuquerque City Council to tear down substandard buildings.
The city’s Safe City Strike Force also targeted hundreds of properties, both residential and commercial and took civil enforcement action against blighted and substandard properties and cleaned upped and boarded up properties found to be substandard.
The Safe City Strike Force took code enforcement action back then against a few vacant homes in the Ridgcrest area.
The city’s Planning Department secured federal grants upwards of $1 million dollars for clean ups and board ups of substandard structures that were designated as blighted properties.
In eight years, the Safe City Strike Force took civil enforcement action against upwards of 6,500 properties, both commercial and residential.
COMMUNITY ACTIVISM MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Criminals and especially drug dealers need to know that residents and neighbors are watching them.
A huge part of community-based policing is neighborhoods coming together and knowing who lives in the neighborhood and what is going on in their neighborhood and be proactive in reporting crime.
When residents are alert and report suspicious activity, it makes a difference.
I recall about 12 years ago, neighbors in the South East Heights got together and targeted streets and residential homes in the La Mesa/Trumbull area that were being used for illicit drug sales.
The Southeast Heights neighborhood associations and community activists became so enraged with the amount of crime in the area that they organized and did actual “marches to take back the neighborhood” and protested properties that had become “magnets” for crime.
Groups of anywhere between 25 to 40 neighbors and property owners would get together and walk the streets with signs and armed with “bullhorns” and chant slogans for the drug dealers to get out of their neighborhood.
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Drug Dealers Gotta Go” or “What do we want? Drug dealers gone NOW!” are the chants I can recall.
Police escorts and code enforcement officials would escort the neighbors during their marches.
Neighborhood clean ups were also organized with the city’s help.
Many high ranking Department Heads, including the Mayor and the Chief Administrative Officers, would get out into areas of the city and do trash clean up armed with rakes, shovels and garbage bags.
The city partnered with the activists and took action.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) identified homes they believed drugs were being sold by the owners or tenants.
APD’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit and Code Enforcement Teams targeted areas separately with “sweeps” and law enforcement tactical plans utilizing specialized units.
The Safe City Strike Force would do “sweeps” of the area handing out citations for city code violations such as weed and litter citations.
I recall the former Mayor Martin Chaves and even then State Senator Tim Keller would participated every now and then.
The protest marches turn out to be very effective and made a difference driving out narcotics dealers in the neighborhoods.
EIGHT YEARS OF NEGLECT AND NO ACTION
In December 2009, Republican operative Darren White was appointed Chief Public Safety Officer, oversaw the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and was appointed Director of the Safe City Strike Force.
Darren White has always had the remarkable talent of destroying everything he touches, which is what he did with the Safe City Strike Force and APD.
In January, 2010 the Berry administration and Darren White began to systematically dismantle the Safe City Strike Force.
Eight years later in 2018, the Safe City Strike Force has one employee, its Director who is a code inspector, and the Safe City Strike Force exists in name only in the Planning Department and not the Legal Department where it started and belongs.
For eight (8) years, little or next to nothing was done by the City of Albuquerque to address blighted and substandard residential properties despite repeated demands from neighborhood associations and property owners.
Eight years later, virtually all the progress that was made to clean up neighborhoods and bring down the crime in the city’s neighborhoods is virtually gone.
A conservative estimate is that there are approximately 4,000 substandard residential properties throughout Albuquerque that are in need of serious repair, clean up and many are vacant that have become magnets for crime and that bring down surrounding property values.
To complicate matters, the Albuquerque Police Department is so seriously understaffed that it is unable to do tactical plans or “sweeps” for civil code enforcement with Planning Department inspectors on a consistent and sustained manner in city neighborhoods.
In 2018, APD has only 878 sworn police but with only about 450 in field services handling calls for service throughout the city and on three shifts.
PROPOSED APD FUNDING AND REINSTATEMENT OF SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE
On March 30, 2018, the Keller Administration submitted its 2018-2019 fiscal year city budget to the Albuquerque City Council for review and budget hearings.
Spending highlights in the 2018-2019 city budget include a significant financial commitment to APD and for crime reduction.
The Keller Administration is proposing spend $88 million dollars over a four-year period and return to community-based policing and increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 878 positions filled to 1,200, or by 322 sworn police officers.
The 2018-2019 proposed Keller budget includes $3.9 million for the city’s Code Enforcement Department and to fund the Safe City Strike Force.
The $3.9 million appropriation is a respectable commitment to reinstate a program that was dismantled by the previous administration.
Further, $102,000 in new appropriations is being proposed to undertake board ups of blighted properties and begin the process of condemnation and demolition of properties declared a nuisance.
Eight years ago, the Safe City Strike had $1 million in funding for board ups, teardowns and condemnations.
The $102,000 for board ups of blighted properties is a good start, but significantly more will be needed to address the approximate 4,000 substandard properties throughout Albuquerque.
Funding the Safe City Strike Force may not be a gloried legacy construction project like the ART Bus project, a library or fire station that Mayor’s and city councilors always love taking credit for in order to be remembered.
Notwithstanding, fully funding and staffing the Safe City Strike Force will go a long way to getting rid of blighted residential properties, which only sully entire neighborhoods and put residents in danger and bring property values down.
In the final analysis, neighborhoods should not be forced to take matters into their own hands as what has happened in the Ridgcrest neighborhood area.