The expression “desperate times call for desperate measures” is commonly attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. In his work “Amorphisms”, Hippocrates wrote: “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.”
In Albuquerque when it comes to the cities’ violent crime rates, Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Michael Geier and District Attorney Raul Torres have come up with their own version of the expression: “Desperate Measures For Despicable Crimes” with yet another response to yet another senseless murder and another press conference to announce initiatives. Mayor Tim Keller for his part has also begun blaming the courts to some extent.
THE CITY’S 26TH MURDER AND COUNTING
On May 4, 2019, 23-year-old University of New Mexico student Jackson Weller was shot and killed outside a crowded “Imbibe Night Club” in the heart of Nob Hill making him the 26th person killed by gun violence in Albuquerque this year. APD responded to the shooting call out around 2:15 a.m. and found Weller lying in the street. He had been shot once in the chest and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
According to news reports, those inside the club described a single gunshot heard outside the nightclub. Customers quickly ran out through the front door to see what was going on. In the street, a woman was screaming and others yelled for an ambulance as a crowd gathered around Weller’s body.
Jackson Weller just turned 23 last month and went to UNM to play baseball. He was a member of the Lobos baseball team in 2018 and was planning on rejoining the team this fall. Weller grew up in Keller, Texas where he played baseball throughout middle school and his high school years.
Weller’s killing is the 26th homicide in Albuquerque this year. Thus far, 15 of the homicides remain unsolved. Law enforcement authorities reported that there have been 114 people shot in 112 days in Bernalillo County including the city of Albuquerque through April 23, which is a 36% increase over last year during the same time period.
For a related story and statistics see:
On Saturday, May 11, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) announced detectives had arrested Darian Bashir, 23, for the killing at a Northeast Heights apartment. According to the arrest warrant affidavit filed, a video surveillance showed a man, later identified as Bashir, walk up to Weller, pull a gun from his waist and shot him point blank in the chest. Bashir is then seen getting into a vehicle that speeds away through a back alley. According to the arrest warrant affidavit three witnesses identified Bashir as the man who shot Weller. One witness told police he heard a gunshot and saw Bashir walking away holding a gun. Two other witnesses say they saw Bashir shoot Weller and walk away as Weller collapsed to the ground. Friends of Weller’s who were with him told detectives that he had been in a fistfight with several people before the shooting but that Darian Bashir was not one of them.
In November 2017, Darian Bashir was charged with aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm after he allegedly walked up to another young man in Downtown Albuquerque and shot him at point-blank range in the chest. However, the case was dismissed by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office because the victim, who survived being shot, did not testify. The case was dismissed in January 2018 after the DA’s Office failed to comply with court mandated hearing deadlines, including not arranging witness interviews.
According to District Attorney Raul Torrez, although his office missed a few deadlines, the case fell apart when the victim didn’t show up to multiple pretrial interviews and Torrez said: “In cases that have this type of violence, sometimes we don’t have cooperative witnesses … So we have enough to initiate an arrest but not enough to complete a prosecution.”
The case has since been refiled, and Bashir was indicted April 9, 2019 by the District Attorney.
ANOTHER PRESS CONFERENCE, ANOTHER INITIATIVE
On Friday, May 10, 2019, in reaction to the murder of 21-year-old Jackson Weller, Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Michael Geier, UNM President Garnett Stokes, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez held a joint press conference to announce initiatives aimed at making the Nob Hill Business District safer and reducing violent crime up and down the Central corridor.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham did not attend the May 10 news conference, but she was the main focus of the news conference because of the action she took. She revealed that there were a series of meetings throughout the week where she pledged the assistance of her administration, including State Police, the state Probation and Parole Division, and the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.
The initiatives announced at the May 10 press conference include:
1. Assigning an additional 50 New Mexico State Police officers from across the state to work out of Albuquerque. Seven NM sate police officers already work here which will bring the number up to 57.
2. Giving UNM police access to the substation and having them coordinate patrols with Albuquerque Police Department officers.
3. Expanding the hours of the Triangle Community Substation on Central and Dartmouth until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays after bars close.
4. Stationing three bike patrol teams to work in Nob Hill during the day and three or four additional officers to patrol on Friday and Saturday nights.
5. Working with the Fire Marshal and the New Mexico Registration and Licensing Department to crack down on issues relating to overcrowding and over-serving in bars that could contribute to late night violence.
6. Using the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to match casings to guns used in shootings throughout the state.
Governor Lujan Grisham in a news release stated:
“Violent crime in Albuquerque is a scourge, and we will attack the roots of that scourge with targeted deployments of manpower and resources. … New Mexico residents must be free to have every expectation of safety in their homes and communities. It’s our duty as a state to take every action we possibly can to realize that freedom, and I’m proud to stand with our partners in Albuquerque in providing immediate, directed assistance.”
During the May 10 press conference, Mayor Tim Keller had this to say:
“I am saddened and angered by the news that a student’s life was taken last night. … I am getting updates regularly from APD as they work hard to solve this case and bring the killer to justice … Gun violence is not a problem with a quick or obvious solution, but we are determined to fight back in every way. … We understand the urgency of this moment, and I want to say to the people and businesses of Nob Hill that we are not giving up on Nob Hill. … No one is giving up on Nob Hill. We are increasing our efforts because we understand, especially because of the proximity to UNM, that Nob Hill is just as critical as any other part of our city.”
Mayor Keller has also said “Over the last decade, violent crime driven by drugs, gangs, guns, and domestic violence has become an increasingly deadly challenge for this community. … We have made this dangerous mix of crime our top priority.” Keller also disclosed that he had been working with the state to come up with a plan to bring down violent crime.
For the first time since becoming Mayor, Tim Keller has adopted the practice of his predecessor Mayor Richard Berry and began to blame the courts for a violent crime. Keller told the news conference that:
“This suspect was recently released from jail on his own recognizance for a felony firearms case in February, in which he was openly firing out of a vehicle … Unfortunately, this individual was back on the street.”
Keller was essentially saying the Defendant was guilty of drive by shooting that he had never been charged with and that Jackson Weller would not be dead if the defendant had not have been free pending trial in the first place by the Courts. Keller made no mention that it was the DA’s Office that was responsible for the dismissal.
According to Court records, it was District Court Richard Brown that released Bashir back in January pending trial because he had a “minimal criminal history” and “no felony convictions” and noted “He was charged with a violent felony in 2017, but the charges were dismissed.”
Transcripts of the previous hearing revealed the judge “was troubled by some inferences,” including the idea that Defendant Bashir and the others he was with, had been shooting at police officers an allegation the APD police officers did not include in the criminal complaint they filed with the court. Ultimately, Judge Brown found that although Bashir posed a safety risk to the community, that risk could “be reasonably addressed with appropriate conditions of release” which ostensibly was not objected to by the DA’s office.
SENATOR VICTIM OF ROAD RAGE
During the May 10, 2019 joint press conference, District Attorney Raúl Torrez for his part, and not at all surprising, proclaimed the “preventative detention” system is not working and said he will pursue policy changes to keep violent offenders off the streets and said:
“Next week, I intend to introduce a proposed package for legislative action that I will be asking the Governor and the leadership in Santa Fe to take action on in the next session.”
No doubt that Torrez was also reacting to interviews made by South Valley Senator Jacob Candelaria who was a victim of a road rage incident and who called out Torrez saying Torrez was given significant increases in his budget and the office was not doing much. On May 9, 2019, it was reported that South Valley State Senator Jacob Candelaria was almost a victim of gun violence while driving home from work. The incident occurred on Academy near Wyoming when a driver flashed a gun at Candelaria. In a TV news interview, Candelaria stated “[A] Car speeds up, gets behind me, tries different maneuvers to try and pull up next to me, I knew something was wrong. … [When I saw the gun] I peel out of there and I get into a residential area. .. It was probably the most frightening experience I’ve had in my entire life.” Senator Candelaria went on to say “Two years ago, the legislature – and I was part of this – appropriated millions of dollars more for the Albuquerque district attorney … We were promised as a legislature immediate result. I have not seen those results.”
VIOLENT CRIME IS CITY WIDE PROBLEM
During the May 10, 2019 press conference, APD Chief Geier said APD plans are to increase the presence of police throughout the area and in the Southwest Area Command, where gun violence is the most prevalent. The 57 State Police officers will be stationed along Central, from UNM to Wyoming. According to Geier: “The whole southeast is part of the initiative … The Nob Hill area right now is the most visible because of the recent homicide, the business owners and their concerns.”
Data from the District Attorney’s Office reveals that shootings with injury or death are not just a Downtown and Nob Hill area problem. Gun violence is heavily concentrated elsewhere in the Southeast Area Command, with the majority occurring east of San Mateo.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has implemented a data collection program called “Ceasefire”. Ceasefire is supposedly a data-driven approach to combat gun violence.
According to the DA’s office a breakdown of data from January 1, 2019, to April 23, 2019 is as follows:
There were 101 shootings in which individuals were injured or killed, several of which had multiple victims
114 people were shot, 17 of whom were killed.
95 incidents happened in the city.
6 incidents happened outside the city but within the county.
2 people were shot by law enforcement.
10 cases were self-inflicted shootings.
The shortest time between shootings was 16 minutes.
The longest time was a five-and-a-half-day stretch in early January.
The average number of shootings was just over one shooting per day.
Suspects have been identified in 42 cases, although it’s unclear how many have resulted in an arrest.
There were 27 more shootings so far in 2019 compared to the same time period in 2018 when there were 74 shootings.
CHRONOLOGY OF PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED INITIATIVES
The May 10 press conference was only the first in recent months where the city and APD made announcement of plans to deal with violent crime.
MAY 3, 2019 CITY COUNCIL INITIATIVES FOR NOB HILL
On May 3, 2019, Albuquerque City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez held their own press conference to announce public safety initiatives for Nob Hill. The 4 City Councilors announced their proposal to invest up to $1.5 million in specific Central corridor for “public safety” initiatives and marketing measures for fiscal year 2020. Included is $500,000 in one-time funding for grants to nonprofit business associations and merchant groups along the central corridor.
Many business owners along the Central Corridor where the ART Bus project was constructed have complained about repeated vandalism in the area, break-ins resulting in the businesses having to spend money on expensive repairs and even security measures. Other Nob Hill business owners have expressed mounting frustration, fear and anger struggling to recover from the 18 months of Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) construction.
The business owners in Nob Hill asked for 12 bike officers and six dedicated motorized police units every night in the Nob Hill business district. This may sound familiar because that is what happened in downtown central, but on a much larger scale. The proposed $1.5 million investment supposedly will help lure customers back to the area because many businesses had to close during the disastrous ART Bus project down central.
DA RAUL TORREZ HIGH TECH INITIATIVE
On April 29 and 30, 2019, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez show cased his Crime Strategies Unit (CSU), which he touted as being “intelligence-driven prosecution”. According to Torrez, the initiative is less about putting people in jail and more about seeing the bigger picture of fighting crime and how to prevent it.
According to Torrez “[The CSU] is a group of investigators and analysts who use a variety of technology, platforms and tools to build and develop a comprehensive picture of who’s engaged in crime, particularly violent crime in the community.” Launched in August last year by Torrez, the CSU office will be fully implemented by the end of May.
APRIL 8, 2019 CITY DECLARES VIOLENT CRIME “PUBLIC HEALTH” ISSUE
On April 8, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller and APD announced a new program and efforts that will deal with “violent crime” in the context of it being a “public health issue” and dealing with crimes involving guns in an effort to bring down violent crime in Albuquerque.
Mayor Keller and APD argue that gun violence is a “public health issue” because gun violence incidents have lasting adverse effects on children and others in the community that leads to further problems. APD supposedly is tracking violent crime relying on the same methods used to track auto thefts, weekly reports summarizing shootings, refining policies, and learning from best practices used by other law enforcement agencies. One goal is for APD to examine how guns are driving other crimes, such as domestic violence and drug addiction.
The initiatives announced on April 8, 2019 include:
1. Using data from APD’s Real Time Crime Center to focus on areas with a heavy concentration of gun violence and identify any patterns.
2. Forming units of officers called Problem Response Teams in each area command. The Problem Response Teams will be made up of officers who don’t take calls for service but will be available to help community members as they need it. After a violent crime, the teams, along with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, will visit the neighborhood and provide resources or information.
3. Identifying those who are selling firearms illegally to felons or juveniles.
4. Working with agencies and universities to conduct research on gun violence as a public health issue.
5. Implementing a standardized shooting response protocol that police must follow within the first 72 hours of a reported crime. APD intends to collect and test all casings at shooting scenes and intends to purchase new equipment and technology that can assist detectives in investigating gun crimes.
6. APD is in the process of hiring additional personnel for the crime lab and securing technology that will increase efficiency around DNA testing including automating the entire unit. The unit that tests DNA and the unit that tests latent fingerprints will be split in an attempt to reduce a backlog of evidence that needs to be tested.
7. Increasing the use of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the Problem Response Teams. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network program is used to identify which guns have been used in multiple crimes by analyzing all casings they can find at violent crime scenes where a firearm has been discharged
8. Use of a placard police officers can hang on doors to encourage residents to call with information about a crime.
SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 DOWNTOWN PUBLIC SAFETY DISTRICT
On September 12, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller announced a new “Downtown Public Safety District” for Central Downtown that assigns up to 12 police officers specifically to the area and applying other city resources, such as a Family and Community Services Department social worker. The Downtown Public Safety District” created by Keller was in response to a petition drive by Downtown businesses and residents demanding such a substation. The substation for the Downtown Public Safety District is located at the Alvarado Transportation Center at First and Central SW. The substation gives a permanent police presence in Downtown Albuquerque.
The congregation of the homeless in the Central Downtown area have been a chronic problem especially around the Alvarado Transportation Center. Consequently, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) was assigned to the district to address homelessness and behavioral health needs.
Several other city departments a well as community organizations providing services to the homeless and mentally ill contribute resources to the district. The other city departments that provide services to Central Downtown area include:
1. Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) has increased its presence near Central Avenue during high-volume call times and by driving a loop around the district after each call for service.
2. The Transit and Municipal Development departments contribute security personnel to the district in coordination with APD patrol plans.
3. The Family and Community Services Department is contributing a social worker to coordinate service providers and implement Project ECHO to train mental health workers in the district.
4. The Municipal Development and Solid Waste departments have expanded the use of street cleaning machines throughout Downtown, including alleyways, and add collection routes for Downtown businesses to address overflow of trash from Saturday nights.
5. Solid Waste is using its “Block by Block” program to wash sidewalks and its Clean City Graffiti crew to eradicate graffiti as soon as possible.
7. The Family and Community Services Department is working with Heading Home’s ABQ Street Connect program to help people with significant behavioral health disability and who are experiencing homelessness.
8. The Family and Community Services is also working with HopeWorks and outreach partners including APD’s COAST team, APD’s Crisis Intervention Team and ACT teams to do mental health outreach and are working with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness to help service providers for homeless people.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY TORREZ BUDGET INCREASES
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office employs 330 full time personnel which includes 118 full time attorney positions. During the 2018-2019 legislative session, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez secured a $4.2 million increase for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office. During the 2019-2020 that just ended, the office received another $5,000,000 increase in budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Torrez now has $24.8 million-dollar budget to run his office.
According to the New Mexico sunshine portal, District Attorney Raul Torrez currently has 330 fully funded positions within his office. The Sunshine Portal also reveals that Torres has 55 vacancies, 21 which are attorney prosecutor positions.
MAYOR KELLER’S DEDICATION OF RESOURCES
In 2017, then State Auditor Tim Keller campaigned for Mayor proclaiming he had the right plan for reducing crime, police reform and community-based policing. On April 1, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller submitted his first proposed budget to the Albuquerque City Council which was approved. The City Council Approved Mayor Tim Keller’s spending of $88 million dollars, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures to hire 350 officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers. Keller further implemented a hiring and recruitment program to offer incentives, pay raises and bonuses to join or return to APD in order to return to community-based policing. By July, 2019, APD should have up to 950 sworn police which is still 250 below the desired number of police officers.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Michael Geier and District Attorney Raul Torrez asking Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for help and succeeding in having the Governor assign a total of 57 New Mexico State Police officers from across the state to work out of Albuquerque can be described as “desperate measures for despicable crimes”.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s action does come with considerable risk to other New Mexico smaller communities given the fact that significant law enforcement resources from the New Mexico State Police are being diverted from much smaller communities that need them more than Albuquerque.
Notwithstanding, Governor Michell Lujan Grisham with her words and actions announced in a press release showed far greater sense of urgency acknowledging the crisis than did Keller, Geier and Torrez.
The fact that Mayor Tim Keller, like his predecessor Mayor Richard Berry, began to blame the courts for a violent crime is extremely disappointing. It is also evidence that Keller knows his policies are failing. Despite Mayor Keller’s increases APD budget and personnel, he has not shaken the stark reality that the city is way too violent. Mayor Keller is relegated to issuing condolences to victim family’s that ring hollow when he conducts news conferences to repeat or try and come up with new initiatives to reduce violent crime in any given area. Mayor Keller should probably save a lot of time and effort and just video tape one press conference that could be played on a video loop to save time in that he seems to say the same things over and over again: how sad he is for the death or current tragedy, this has been going on for a long time, it is going to take more time for things to get better, we are “One Albuquerque” and this is what APD will now be doing.
Both Torrez and Keller campaigned to get elected DA and Mayor on platforms that they could and would bring down our skyrocketing crime rates. No at all surprising, Mayor Tim Keller and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez have tried to take credit for crime rates being on the decline in all other categories other than gun violence offenses.
In 2016, Raul Torrez campaigned on a platform of reducing crime arguing that crime rates were too high, our criminal justice system was broken and that he was the guy to fix it. Torrez during his first year in office blamed judges for our high crime rates because of reduced sentences given to violent criminals and dismissal of cases until it was revealed that his office voluntarily dismissed cases at much higher rates than the courts.
After more than two years in office, blaming judges for high crime rates and constant complaining about lack of resources without filling over 55 vacancies in his office, DA Torrez only now realizes that has not worked and finally reached out to others to find better strategies, such as his “Ceasefire Program” and his “Crime Strategies Unit” .
Both DA Torrez and Mayor Keller have initiated programs in an effort to bring down violent crime rates and gun violence. As the shootings, assaults and killings continue to rise, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller are increasingly focused on the gun violence and the city’s murder rates, but time is running out for both of them despite their efforts.
Notwithstanding, voters are very fickle and unforgiving when politicians make promises they do not or cannot keep. The Bernalillo County District Attorney Office is now Torrez’s full responsibility and he cannot blame his predecessor for continuing increases in our crime rates and bungled prosecutions. APD is now fully in the hands of Mayor Tim Keller and his appointed command staff, and he cannot blame his predecessor for continuing increases in our crime rates, so he now appears to be changing tactics an blaming judges.
Mayor Keller, APD Chief Geier and DA Torrez asking for additional resources and more personnel from the State is essentially an admission by them that all they have been doing for the last two years is failing and they need still more, money and resources. Keller, Geier and Torrez are also realizing that governing and law enforcement takes more than just press conferences to get results and if people they have hired are not getting the job done, personnel changes are in order, including asking for more than a few resignations.
If you are being given everything you want and have asked for, and then some, sooner or later people demand results. What is becoming increasingly concerning for the City is that all the increases in APD budget and personnel and increases and new programs at APD and the DA’s Office are not having any effect on bringing down the violent crime and murder rates.
It is no longer an issue of not having the money, personnel nor resources. It is now an issue of management, or mismanagement of resources, by Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Michael Geier and District Attorney Raul Torrez. Why bother with real results when it is so much easier to hold press conferences, give out condolences, do TV interviews, blame the courts for violent crimes and hold your hands out for more money and resources.