On December 18, at a news conference in Detroit, Michigan, US Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was initiating a major crackdown aimed at driving down violent crime in 7 of the nation’s most violent cities in the country. Not at all surprising, Albuquerque was one of those cities. The other 6 cities are Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee. All 7 cities have violent crime rates significantly higher and above the national average.
Last year AG Bar dubbed the initiative “Operation Relentless Pursuit”. The federal agencies that were identified to participate and be involved were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Marshals Service.
While US Attorney General William Barr was having his press conference in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson had his own in Albuquerque and explained what the money will mean for Albuquerque and said:
“We are committed to bringing the weight of federal charges against the most dangerous violent criminals plaguing our city. … We will deploy all the tools at our disposal to bring an end to the plight of gun violence in our city.”
The Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office both said they both welcomed the extra help from the federal government. BCSO Sheriff Manny Gonzales had this to say:
“… everybody in this community is concerned about the escalating violence, and bottom line is that the problem’s been identified. … We have a crime crisis.”
A PANDEMIC AND ESCALATING RACIAL TENSIONS IN THE MIDDLE OF A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
From December 18, 2019 when Attorney General Barr first announced “Operation Relentless Pursuit” to July 21, 2020 when President Trump announced “Operation Legend”, the political dynamics in the city and the country have changed dramatically for the worse because of two very different events: the corona virus pandemic killing hundreds of thousands and the killing of George Floyd, 46, on May 26 by a Minneapolis Police Officer. Under the failed leadership of President Trump, the virus has spread to every state in the country, is destroying the United State economy, unemployment is the highest since the Great Depression and at the same time, people have taken to the streets all over the country to protest systematic racism in the United States demanding equal justice under the law, especially for African Americans. A new civil rights movement has emerged in the middle of a pandemic and the 2020 Presidential election between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
In response to the protests in major United States cities where literally thousands have taken to the streets to protest, President Trump has dispatched federal law enforcement agents and troops to quell down protests, protect federal building and use military force to subdue the protests. In Washington, DC, hundreds of armed military troops were dispatched who used tear gas on peaceful protesters. Portland, Oregon became a major epicenter for major protests where an entire section of the city has been taken over by protesters and upwards of 50 nights of continuous protesting occurred. The Portland protests resulted in Trump dispatching hundreds of military style federal agents to quell the protests and resulting in violence in the streets.
On June 15, a man was shot in Old Town over the “La Jornada” (The Journey) sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The shooting occurred during a protest for the removal of the figures of Juan de Onate de Salazar in the sculpture. During the protest, there were 5 to 6 heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard members, some dressed in military camouflage, present trying to “protect” the sculpture. It was reported that the shooting occurred when at least 3 of the protesters attacked a man who was walking away from them and he pulled a gun and shot allegedly in self defense.
Since June 15 protest, protests in Albuquerque have subsided and are now peaceful when they do occur involving upwards of 200 people. The protests have not approached the magnitude nor the violence as in Portland, Oregon where federal law enforcement have clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters.
ELECTED OFFICIALS OVER REACT
On July 20, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales announced he would be going to Washington DC, to meet with President Trump and Attorney General Barr regarding federal government law enforcement assistance. In advance of the Sheriff’s trip to Washington, DC, city and state leaders denounced the trip to meet with Trump. Democrat United States Senator Martin Heinrich demanded that Sheriff Gonzales resign arguing that the Sheriff was out of touch and was inviting the President’s “Storm Troopers” to the city. The meeting Sheriff Manny Gonzales attended turned out to be nothing more than a press conference he attended.
Mayor Tim Keller in a statement said President Trump was ready to incite violence in Democratic cities and was forming a reelection strategy “built on gas-lighting immigrants and people of color” cautioned that the Trump administration had said federal officers were going to Portland to guard the courthouse.” Keller said:
“We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque. Operation Legend is not real crime fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe. … There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city. … If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime-fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state.”
APD Chief Michael Geier said:
“We coordinate with our federal law enforcement partners every day. … What is being described is not real crime-fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work.”
“OPERATION RELENTLESS PURSUIT” BECOMES “OPERATION LEGEND”
On Wednesday, July 21, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced during a White House news conference that 35 federal agents are being sent to Albuquerque as part of the expansion of “Operation Legend” with other cities also being sent in a handful of cities across the United States. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales U.S. Attorney John Anderson, for the State of New Mexico, were present for the announcement, but they did not speak.
“Operation Relentless Pursuit” was renamed “Operation Legend”. No matter what name is used, the Department of Justice will provide $61 million in grants to hire more police officers in cities that are part of Operation Legend. Albuquerque’s portion of the money will go toward hiring 40 more police officers and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will be able to hire five more officers with the money.
Attorney General Barr said 35 federal agents will come from other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the United States Marshal’s Office and Homeland Security. Attorney General Barr emphasized that “Operation Legend” will not look like it does in Portland, where federal agents have faced off with protesters. He said this will be classic crime-fighting.
Immediately after President Trump’s press conference, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson, who was present, said the goal of the operation is to reduce gun violence in Albuquerque and had this to say:
“Any effort to compare Operation Legend to what’s going on in Portland is baseless and misguided. … There is no connection between those two. The federal law enforcement resources that are being deployed are directed at reducing gun violence; they are not directed at arresting or controlling protesters; they are not being directed at restricting anyone’s right to protest. … They are not being directed at immigration enforcement, and they are not being directed at protecting statues. It’s limited to the exclusive goal of eliminating the scourge of gun violence.”
Jim Langenberg, the FBI special agent in charge of the Albuquerque Division, also had this to say:
“There’s a lot of confusion between what we’re doing here in Albuquerque and what’s going on in Portland. It’s apples and oranges. … Agents are not coming to Albuquerque to investigate local crimes such as speeding”.
FBI Special Agent Langenberg added that if there’s a crime, there has to be a federal link like firearms, carjacking, drugs or gang structure. In other words, there must be a federal crime. What was made clear is the law enforcement personnel will not be attending local protests dressed in military garb as is the case in Portland Oregon.
The FBI also said federal agents will be working in plainclothes alongside APD and BCSO for pre-existing task forces. Those task forces could be the joint task force “Operation Relentless Pursuit,” which aims to take high-profiled criminals off the streets. It’s an initiative U.S. Attorney General William Barr established in Albuquerque in 2019.
According to President Trump, the Department of Justice will provide $61 million in grants to hire more police officers in cities that are part of Operation Legend. Albuquerque’s portion of the money will go toward hiring 40 more police officers and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will be able to hire five more officers with the money.
Attorney General Barr said 35 federal agents will come from other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the United States Marshal’s Office. and Homeland Security. AG Barr said the federal government will offer a reward to help find out who killed Jacqueline Vigil.
Attorney General Barr emphasized that “Operation Legend” will not look like it does in Portland, where federal agents have faced off with protesters. He said this will be classic crime-fighting.
UNITED STATE ATTORNEY FOR NEW MEXICO ESSENTIALLY ACCUSES MAYOR TIM KELLER OF LYING
On July 28, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, John C. Anderson, sent Mayor Tim Keller a scathing letter in which he essentially accused Mayor Tim Keller and his administration of lying about the city not getting a U.S. Department of Justice crime-fighting grant. Anderson was blunt and told Keller that crime is out of control in Albuquerque and that Keller had been informed that the Department of Justice was choosing Albuquerque for “Operation Legend” before President Trump announced the effort and before Mayor Keller issued his statement condemning it a few days later.
The link to the Anderson letter is here:
Anderson reminded Keller that the city entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2014 because the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) was found to have had “culture of aggression” and that APD had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force violating people’s civil rights.
Anderson’s biggest bone of contention with Mayor Keller was over a $10 million federal crime-fighting grant that Keller and his police chief Mike Geier said has not materialized. According to Anderson, the $10 million grant package has been in the city’s hands for at least a month. All that is need for the city to be given the $10 million is for the city to accept the terms of the grant by signing the grant papers, something the Mayor has not done.
Following are excerpts from US Attorney Anderson’s letter to Mayor Keller about the grant:
“I would also like take this opportunity to address the additional issue of the Department of Justice’s approximately $10 million federal grant award package that is currently pending in your office. Specifically, I have read an Instagram post that Chief Geier recently posted, in which he states the following:
“While we welcome any additional resources to fight violent crime, the President promised help in the past and has not yet followed through. We are still waiting on the $10 million Operation Relentless Pursuit funding that was promised last year to help us with our goal to hire more officers and to bring in additional federal law enforcement agents to assist us in our crime fighting efforts. While I will try to remain optimistic, I won’t hold my breath until we see all this actually come to fruition.”
“I have also read a KRQE article posted on July 23, 2020, in which you are quoted as saying, “We’ve had a lot of challenges where the federal government will work with us, say. ‘Yes’ to a program and then either the check never comes in the mail, which is the case with we think roughly $l0 million with this past operation.”
“As you know, these funds are the same Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) funds that I have been imploring the City to accept for several months now. As further enticement for the City to accept these funds, the Department of Justice even waived the standard 25% local match that generally accompanies COPS Hiring Program (CHP) funds. So I am confused by statements, like those identified above, that clearly suggest to the public that the City has said “Yes” to these funds, but that the Department of Justice has failed to honor its promise to deliver them.”
“My office, of course, issued a press release on May 11. 2020, announcing that these very funds had been awarded to the City. COPS Office Director Phil Keith then sent the City the grants award package, dated June 25,2020, which he addressed to Chief Geier and the City of Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sarita Nair. In the package, Mr. Keith first congratulated the APD on being awarded the CHP funds. The award package further instructed, in bold lettering on the first page, that the City needed to officially accept the awarded funds within 45 days of receipt of the award package. To date, the COPS Office has received no communication from the City accepting the award.”
“Obviously, no federal funds can be sent to Albuquerque unless the City officially accepts the award. In other words, the ball has very much been in the City’s court for more than a month. So it is confusing to the public, and certainly unfair to the Department of Justice, for any City official to represent or suggest that the Department has somehow failed to follow through on its promise to get these funds to Albuquerque, or that anyone at the Department has failed to mail a check to the City for which it has been waiting.”
United State Attorney Anderson took the opportunity to also explain why more federal law enforcement agents are being sent to Albuquerque essentially telling Mayor Keller that APD is unable to control crime in the city. According to the Anderson letter:
“One reason that Albuquerque was selected for Operation Legend is because, according to statistics published by the FBI, Albuquerque’s violent crime rate is 3.7, or nearly four times the national violent crime rate. While we have been eagerly awaiting current, year-to-date statistics, I am sure you will agree that the pace of lethal shootings in Albuquerque from 2019 into 2020 is concerning. Of course, in 2019, the City experienced a record high number of homicides. Now in 2020, in one weekend this month alone, APD has opened four separate homicide investigations. And a survey of APD officers at the beginning of this year suggested that those surveyed believed Albuquerque’s crime problem was “getting worse.”
“My office’s commitment to this fight is not new. Throughout my tenure as U.S. Attorney, we have consistently been taking tangible actions to reduce the number of violent criminals roaming the streets of Albuquerque. Indeed, my office, in partnership with dedicated federal agents and state and local law enforcement. has a long history of leading the fight against alleged cartel activity, drug trafficking, violent repeat offenders, and those alleged to be involved in violent activities including gang violence, rape, sex trafficking, and kidnapping. Since mid-2017 alone, my office has also brought federal charges against more than 250 defendants that the DA’s office has asked us to review for federal adoption.”
Mayor Keller has yet to release any response to United State Attorney John Anderson.
TRUMP’S CALL TO ARMS
On Friday, May 29, President Donald Trump tweeted amid unrest in Minneapolis that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Trump’s tweet was flagged by Twitter as violating rules against glorifying violence. The tweet was the same language used by a Miami police chief in 1967 who believed that violent protests should be met with deadly force. About 13 hours after Trumps Tweet, he took to Twitter again and to claim that he wasn’t suggesting the shooting of rioters. Instead, he said he was referring to gun violence that has been spurred by the unrest.
Soon after his telephone conference call with the country’s governors, President Trump declared himself “your president of law and order.” He went on to say:
“… If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them. … I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights … . “
Trump said he would call out and mobilize “thousands and thousands“ of soldiers to keep the peace.
When Trump says “I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights”, many of his supporters no doubt are taking it to mean as call for vigilantism.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
United States Attorney John Anderson no doubt took some comfort in dressing down Mayor Tim Keller, but he also apparently does not understand that the citizens of Albuquerque expect more of his office to deal with violent crime. Albuquerque has a violent crime rate that is 3.7 times the national average per capita, and the cities aggravated assaults are 4 times the national average per capita. Albuquerque’s FBI Uniform Crime statistics for the years 2008 to 2019 reveal just how bad violent crime has increased in Albuquerque over the last 11 years. The hard numbers for the last 10 years reflect that crime has not declined much and that like a waive on a beach, it has “ebbed and flowed” over the years but have risen none the less to all-time highs. You can review the hard numbers in the below postscript.
It is not likely that 35 sworn Federal law enforcement officers are going to make that much of a difference in the City’s high violent crime rates. After all, APD has 980 sworn police and the BCSO has 300 sworn police, for a total of 1,280 sworn police, with city’s crime rates being some of the highest in the country for the last 10 years, 8 years under Republican Mayor RJ Berry and for 2 years getting even worse under Democrat Mayor Keller. Keller himself is saying APD alone needs at least 200 more cops and 35 more federal agents will not fill that void. Further, the city is not under a protest siege as is Portland, Oregon, so its not likely that hundreds will be sent in by Trump to carry out his threat of deploying military troops.
In 2019 Mayor Keller and Chief Michael Geier announced 4 separate programs within nine months to combat our city’s violent crime and murder rates. Those programs are: the Shield Unit, Declaring Violent Crime “public health” issue, “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP) and the Metro 15. It appears that all 4 programs Keller and Geier have come up with have had little or no affect on the city’s violent crime rates. In 2019, under Keller’s watch, there were 82 homicides, the all-time record of homicides in one year in the city’s history. The previous record was in 2017 with 72 murders. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year.
United States Attorney John Anderson, by bringing up the DOJ Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) in his letter, knows full well that city for the last 6 years has been struggling with the implementation of the 270 mandatory reforms. The city has also been spending $88 million dollars to expand and grow the department. The city has also spent another $35 million in training and monitoring the implementation of the CASA reforms. However, for the past 6 years, the United States Department of Justice, including the United States Attorneys Office in New Mexico, has essentially sat by and watched while APD has done all the heavy lifting and work, flopping around like a fish out of water, desperately trying to implement the reforms and while violent crime continued to rise. At what point will citizens stop believing that APD is better off with the DOJ reforms after 6 years of work and millions spent with no end in sight?
The people of Albuquerque, no matter the party affiliation, are not likely to tolerate any repetition to what has happened in Portland, Oregon. No matter the bickering as reflected by the self righteous public comments of Mayor Tim Keller and in the very condescending letter sent by United States Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson to Keller, the city is still one of the most violent cities in the country. Both Keller and Anderson live here and must deal with it, and if they cannot, they both need to move on to other employment. Political posturing gets them both nowhere in the eyes of the general public and only gives themselves a sense if satisfaction.
The people of Albuquerque want results and not petty bickering and political posturing between a Democrat Mayor appealing to his progressive base and who has already made it known he is running for a second term and a Republican United States Attorney for New Mexico who may not have a job soon after the November general election.
If things continue as they are, and violent crime continues to soar in the city, both just may be out of a job in 2021, one sooner than the other, with voters sending Keller and Trump and in turn Anderson, packing.
Below are the total homicides, aggravated assault and violent crimes reported for the last 12 full years:
The number of HOMICIDES reported each year from 2008 to 2019 are:
2020: 42 as of August 3.
The number of AGGRAVATED ASSAULTS (assaults with deadly weapon) reported each year from 2008 to 2018 are:
In 2019, the category of “Violent Crimes” was replaced with the category of “Crimes Against Persons” and the category includes homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping and assault. In 2019 during Keller’s second full year in office, Crimes Against Persons increased from 14,845 to 14,971, or a 1% increase. The Crimes Against Person category had the biggest rises in Aggravated Assaults increasing from 5,179 to 5,397.
The total number of VIOLENT CRIMES (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined) reported each year from 2008 to 2018 are:
2017: 7,686 (Aggravated Assaults: 4,213, Non-Fatal Shootings: 470)
2018: 6,789 (Aggravated Assaults: 3,885, Non-Fatal Shootings: 491)
In 2019, the category of “Violent Crimes” was replaced with the category of “Crimes Against Persons” and the category includes homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping and assault. In 2019 during Keller’s second full year in office, Crimes Against Persons increased from 14,845 to 14,971, or a 1% increase.