On August 28, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson reported that in a little over a month since federal agents arrived in Albuquerque as part of Operation Legend, 19 violent felons have been arrested on federal charges. According to Anderson, it is just a small number of people driving the majority of violent crime in Albuquerque, and their goal is to get those people off the streets. The Department of Justice (DOJ), including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is targeting people with lengthy and violent criminal histories and convicted felons accused of crimes like carjacking, illegally shooting guns and drug dealing.
U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson had this to say:
“Operation Legend is about combating dangerous crime and gun crime in our cities. … It’s not about policing any kind of protest in our city. It’s not about immigration enforcement. … We are really looking at the people who are driving the violent crime epidemic in Albuquerque. … We are looking to remove the most violent folks from communities, not simply rack up arrest numbers of people who do not have serious criminal histories. … There are more cases on which prosecution has been initiated, but I can’t say more about them because they are under [court] seal. … More than anything, I hope to see reduction in violent crime and people feeling safer living and working in the city.”
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NEWS RELEASE
On September 4, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), issued a press release giving an update on the number of people charged since Operation Legend was deployed in Albuquerque in July.
The DOJ news release reports that between July 22 and August 31, at least 35 people have been charged predominantly largely on gun and drug-related offenses. U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson identified 16 of the 35 people arrested and had this to say in the DOJ press release:
“By coordinating federal resources with state and local law enforcement, we’ve been able to identify, apprehend and prosecute individuals driving dangerous crime in the city. We can see from the charges brought under Operation Legend that we have been effective in meeting our objectives and we intend to continue this trend.”
According to the DOJ press release, the number of suspects and charged include:
19 charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
16 charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
10 charged with being in possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
9 charged with distribution of controlled substances.
8 charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
5 charged with Hobbs Act violations.
4 charged with being in possession of a stolen firearm.
3 charged with brandishing of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime.
One each charged with carjacking, reentry of a removed alien; discharging a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime; and maintaining a drug-involved premises.
OPERATION LENGEND $9.7 MILLION GRANT IS REIMBURSEMENT GRANT
Included in Operation Legend is $9.7 million to the city to hire 40 police officers and pay entry level salaries for a 3-year period. The grant money is from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and was offered to the city after DOJ announced Operation Relentless Pursuit. The grant pays for entry-level salaries for 40 police officers for three years after which the city must find funding to continue paying for the entry level positions.
A big catch to the grant money is that it is not advanced in single lump sum to the city to pay for police officers’ salaries. In a September 8 presentation to the H. Vern Payne Inn of Court, United State Attorney John Anderson said the grant is a “reimbursement grant” meaning that the city will be “reimbursed” for money spent only after the entry level officers are hired. The downside to reimbursement is that the city first must recruit entry level police officers and only after those officers actually go to work will the federal grant money be advanced to reimburse the City.
The city is having difficulty recruiting police officers with money that is already in the city budget. Last year’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. This year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget had funding for 1,040 sworn police and the same amount is being earmarked in the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget. Notwithstanding all the money spent, APD is struggling to grow to the department personnel levels promised by Mayor Tim Keller to 1,200 sworn police, crime is still spiking and APD is under the DOJ consent decree where 61 sworn police are assigned to the the compliance bureau deal with the DOJ mandated reforms. As of August 18, APD has 984 sworn police officers but only 532 of those officers are assigned to the field services, divided between 3 separate shifts, in the six Area Commands to patrol the entire city and take calls for service.
APD STILL UNDER DOJ CONSENT DECREE
Another matter that must be worked out is a memorandum of understanding as to what role and under what restraints will APD Officers assigned to Operation Legend be allowed to work. APD is one of 18 police departments in the country under a federal court consent degree that imposes restrictions on police officer practices and mandates constitutional policing practices. According to the enacted city council resolution, the grant will pay 100% of entry-level salaries and benefits of newly hired or re-hired full-time sworn career officers over a period of 3 years but more experienced officers would then join the Operation Legend Federal task force.
Law enforcement participants with Operation Legend in Albuquerque include the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) , and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and perhaps United States Customs. None of these law enforcement agencies are required to follow the DOJ consent decree when arrests are made as is APD. Any memorandum of understanding should include specific duties and responsibilities of assigned APD officers to avoid any confusion as to the DOJ Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).
CITY APPLIES FOR GRANT
On September 3, it was reported that Albuquerque’s “immigrant-friendly” policies will not block the city’s application for $9.7 million in federal grant money to hire 40 new officers and pay their salaries for three years. Mayor Tim Keller said there is not an issue in the city applying for the grant money. APD city has 984 sworn officers on duty with 60 cadets in the APD academy that should graduate by the end of the year. Mayor Keller wants to meet a goal of 1,100 officers by the end of the year and that may not happen. The problem is that the number of APD Officers retiring at the end of the year will also have to be replaced by the APD Academy graduating cadet class. The APD Academy has a history of not graduating enough to keep up with retirements.
Initially, Mayor Keller said the city would reject the $9.7 million grant taking issue with a number of the provisions within the grant and the “memorandum of understanding” needed for the award of the grant money. Sections of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the Department of Justice deal with immigration status.
The MOU the city is required to sign allows for an audit of city employee forms to determine whether the workers are legally in the United States. Another section requires the city to share immigration information collected by city departments, including APD, but the city does not collect immigration information. Further, there is no requirement in the grant application that APD officers inquire about a person’s immigration status during the normal course of their duties.
COUNCIL VOTES TO ACCEPT GRANT MONEY, QUESTIONS REMAIN
On Wednesday, September 9, the Albuquerque City Council voted to accept the $9.7 grant money from Operation Legend. The Keller administration will now proceed with plans to finalize approval of the grant with a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
But Albuquerque still may not get the money any time soon due to its status as an immigrant-friendly city.
In February, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, John Anderson, pointed out that one of the conditions of the grant funding is that the city complies with a provision in federal law that bars municipalities from prohibiting employees from sharing information about an individual’s immigration status with federal law enforcement. Anderson said at the time in order to receive the $9.7 million, the city has to certify that it complies with that law and if the city is a “Sanctuary City” it would not qualify for the grant money.
SANCTUARY CITY VERSUS SYMBOLIC IMMIGRANT FRIENDLY CITY
The award and acceptance of the $9.7 Million Federal grant has been politicized by those that falsely claim that Albuquerque is a “Sanctuary City”. The truth is, Albuquerque has never been a “Sanctuary City”. In 2001, the Albuquerque City Council enacted a resolution that declared Albuquerque an “immigrant friendly” city. The designation as an “immigrant friendly city” is largely symbolic.
A “sanctuary city” denies cooperation with federal immigration officials and does not use city law enforcement resources to identify or apprehend illegal immigrants and does not use city law enforcement resources to enforce immigration laws.
An “immigrant friendly” city is one that implements “welcoming city” policies and does not provide for city enforcement of federal immigration laws and addresses only city services including licensing and housing and the focus is to create inclusive, immigrant friendly and welcoming policies. and is largely symbolic.
In February, 2017, the City Council enacted a symbolic memorial that reaffirmed that Albuquerque’s “immigrant friendly” status, but it did not make Albuquerque a “sanctuary city”. Many who are in the United States without legal immigration status and who do not engage in criminal conduct are often preyed upon by others and do not report they have been victimized to avoid deportation. As a memorial, the legislation is not law, but an expression of support to extend city services to those who are afraid to ask for help out of fear of being reported to immigration authorities for deportation.
COURT ACTIONS AND RULINGS
The city has not signed the grant funding agreement. The city attorney’s office takes the position that Albuquerque is not a “sanctuary city” as defined under the federal law, and that the city’s immigrant-friendly resolution does not violate the law in question. The city is prepared to go to court if it becomes an issue with the DOJ.
Recent Federal court rulings support that the city is on solid ground and would likely prevail once it accepts the grant money and if the DOJ challenges the award and demands reimbursement. A Federal District Judge in a recent court ruling in California sided with the city of San Francisco against U.S. Attorney General William Barr on the same issue, as well as other court rulings and legal interpretations of the federal law and the city’s resolution.
Albuquerque Assistant City Attorney had this to say:
“When you look at 8 U.S.C. § 1373, it says, notwithstanding any provision of law, the local government entity or official may not prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from sending to or receiving from the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual. … It’s solely those two things: citizenship or immigration status. … The court said California’s policy did not prohibit sending to or receiving from the Immigration and Naturalization Service citizenship or immigration status. It prohibited other things, like place of birth, or national origin. That is consistent with how our ordinance is written.”
The City also is taking the position that because the city does not ask for or collect individuals’ immigration or citizenship status, it has nothing to share with the federal government.
In 2019, a Federal Judge in Illinois ruled against U.S. Attorney General Barr, finding he cannot require compliance with statutes related to immigration law as a condition of a different federal grant. That case was filed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Albuquerque is part, and the city has received money from a grant in relation to that ruling.
In 2018, the Albuquerque was awarded a federal grant of $452,108 for a Crime Gun Intelligence center to improve its ability to investigate shootings. The City has not received the grant money due to the same conditions attached to the $9.7 million COPS office grant. In April, the city filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Barr asking a judge to declare the immigration conditions attached to the Gun Intelligence Center grant unlawful and to give the city the money and the case is still pending.
A link to news coverage is here:
In March, U.S. Attorney John Anderson wrote then APD Chief Michael Geir and said his office could not include a provision the city wanted to insert in a memorandum of understanding that stated its policies comply with the federal immigration law. Anderson wrote:
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is not in a position to offer [APD] or the City an advisory legal opinion with respect to the scope and meaning of City policies and resolutions, or their compliance with federal law. ”
When asked directly whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) believes the city’s immigrant-friendly ordinance clashes with the grant’s conditions, Anderson had this to say:
“The City’s April 24, 2018, resolution provides that nothing in the ‘resolution shall be construed or implemented to conflict with any valid and enforceable duty or obligation imposed by … any federal … law.’ Title 8 U.S.C. § 1373 is a valid federal law and the DOJ obviously views it as such.”
ALBUQUERQUE, WE HAVE A METH PROBLEM
According to United State Attorney John Anderson, the 35 federal agents assigned to Albuquerque under Operation Legend will remain until at least the end of September. At that point, the DOJ will re-evaluate violent crime rates and stay longer if needed.
Anderson is saying the drug battle on the border is shifting and New Mexico’s growing meth problem is being fueled by criminal operations in Mexico. Anderson credits the rise in cheap and available meth for driving Albuquerque’s crime crisis and had this to say:
“For many areas [in] our country including New Mexico, I see meth as being the number one public safety threat in that respect as a driver of violent crime. … This is not a soft drug. … It’s a drug that’s associated with violence both in the use of it and the trafficking. I think it’s the cost and it’s also a function that the fact that tremendously greater amounts of it are being produced in what we call the super labs in Mexico. I think for many years our meth was made locally, was made in much smaller quantities. That has largely been eclipsed by the mass production and cheap production that we’re seeing coming from Mexico.”
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) , New Mexico’s meth problem is getting worse with federal authorities seizing larger amounts of drugs in the state. In New Mexico, 2020 is on track to surpass 2019 and 2018 for total meth seizures coming from Mexico. Anderson said his office is working closely with the DEA to intercept drugs being funneled into the country. They’re also working with Mexican authorities to shut down super labs.
CITY’S CRIME RATES
Operation Legend is 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 is 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. FBI statistics reveal that Albuquerque has the dubious distinction of having a crime rate about 194% higher than the national average. The fact that Albuquerque is one of the 7 cities involved with Operation Legend merits a review of the city’s spiking crime rates.
On Thursday, July 2, 2020, APD officials held a press conference to release the Albuquerque crime statistics for 2019. A report on the city’s crime statistics had not occurred for over a year because it was discovered that Mayor Keller during his first 18 months in office had disseminated false statistics as a result of a change in computer software categories to comply with FBI crime reporting.
ABQ’S CRIME STATISTICS UNDER MAYOR KELLER
A synopsis of the statics during Mayor Tim Keller’s tenure is in order. It must be noted the categories were changed in 2018 to comply with new FBI crime reporting categories.
In 2018, during Mayor Keller’s first full year in office, there were 69 homicides.
In 2019, during Mayor Keller’s second full year in office, there were 82 homicides. Albuquerque had more homicides in 2019 than in any other year in the city’s history. The previous high was 72, in 2017 under Mayor RJ Berry. Another high mark was in 1996, when the city had 70 homicides. On September 3, it was reported that the city had its 53 homicide in 2020
In 2017, during Mayor RJ Berry’s last full year in office, there were 7,686 VIOLENT CRIMES. There were 4,213 Aggravated Assaults and 470 Non-Fatal Shootings.
In 2018 during Mayor Keller’ first full year in office, there were 6,789 violent crimes There were 3,885 Aggravated Assaults and 491 Non-Fatal Shootings.
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.
“Crimes Against Society” include drug offenses, prostitution and animal cruelty.
In 2018 During Keller’s first full year in office, total Crimes Against Society were 3,365.
In 2019 during Keller’s second full year in office, total Crimes Against Society increased to 3,711 for a total increase of 346 more crimes or a 9% increase.
On June 26, 2019 the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) released its annual list of cities with the most stolen vehicles reported. Despite a 28% reduction in auto thefts over a two-year period, Albuquerque ranked No. 1 in the nation for vehicle thefts per capita for the third year in a row.
On July 30, 2020, as reported above, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that Albuquerque is now ranked #2 in the nation for auto theft.
Overall Crime decreased in 2019. The reduction was driven by “Crimes Against Property” which include burglary, fraud, robbery and motor vehicle theft. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a single digit 7% drop, not a double digit drop as reported by Keller, in overall crime, from 75,538 incidents to 70,223.
CRIMES AGAINST PERSONS
Crimes against persons include homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping and assault, remained constant.
Crimes Against Persons increased from 14,845 to 14,971, or a 1% increase. The Crimes Against Person category had the biggest rises of the 3 categories as follows:
Aggravated Assaults increased from 5,179 to 5,397.
In Homicide Offenses, justifiable homicides decreased from 16 to 6
There was a rise in “Negligent Manslaughter” from 3 to 8.
Statutory rape jumped from 1 incident to 10 incidents.
There were 80 murders reported in 2019, compared to 69 to 2018, both years Keller has been in office. As of August 18, there have been 55 homicides in Albquerque with the city on tract to break the all time record once again.
CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY
Crimes Against Society include drug offenses, prostitution and animal cruelty.
In 2018 During Keller’s first full year in office, total Crimes Against Society were 3,365 and increased 2019 during his second year to 3,711 for a total increase of 346 more crimes or a 9% increase. Crimes Against Society had the biggest jumps in drug offenses, from 2,515 to 2,796. Animal Cruelty Offenses went from 11 to 32. There was a decrease in prostitution offenses from 130 to 70.
CRIMES AGAINST PROPERTY
Total Crimes Against Property in 2018 were 57,328 and in 2019 51, 541 for a total reduction of 5,787 or a 10% reduction. The largest drops in property crime were in Auto Theft, Burglary and Fraud offenses aside from identity theft, which skyrocketed from 7 to a whopping 437.
VIOLENT CRIME RATES
The city’s violent crime rates continue to increase during Keller’s term. In 2017, during Mayor RJ Berry’s last full year in office, there were 7,686. There were 4,213 Aggravated Assaults and 470 Non-Fatal Shootings. In 2018 during Mayor Keller’ first full year in office, there were 6,789 violent crimes There were 3,885 Aggravated Assaults and 491 Non-Fatal Shootings.
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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
For the past 6 years, APD has been struggling to implement 276 police department reforms mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) agreed to after the Department of Justice found a “culture of aggression” within APD. The city of Albuquerque is spending $88 million dollars over 4 years to grow and expand the APD from 850 sworn officers to 1,200. The city is also spending an additional $35 million for non-recurring expenses for expansion, recruitment and training.
Even with the initial success of Operation Legend, it is very doubtful that the 35 sworn law enforcement brought to the city for Operation Legend as well as the 40 new sworn police paid for by the Operation Legend grant, are going to make that much of difference anytime soon given the city and counties existing law enforcement personnel resources. APD has 984 sworn police and the BCSO has 300 sworn police, for a total of 1,284 sworn police, with city’s crime rates being some of the highest in the country for the last 10 years.
Eight of those high crime years were under Republican Mayor RJ Berry and for 2 years the crime rates haven gotten even worse under Democrat Mayor Keller. Keller himself is saying APD alone needs at least 200 more cops and have a full force of 1,200. United State Attorney John Anderson says that the 35 sworn police already here may be gone at the end of September. It is likely the hiring of the 40 new sworn will take upwards of six months to a year.
United States Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson is now saying that “meth [is] … the number one public safety threat in that respect as a driver of violent crime. … This is not a soft drug. … It’s a drug that’s associated with violence both in the use of it and the trafficking. … .”
If United State Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson is truly committed to bringing down the city’s crime rates, he should seek to expand Operation Legend for a full year and concentrate on arresting and prosecuting those involved with the meth trade. A short-term tactical plan such as Operation Legend in a Presidential election year is not going to accomplish very much long term. The again, come November 3 election day, the priorities of the US Department of Justice are likely to come to a screeching halt if Joe Biden is elected President.
POSTCRIPT NEWS UPDATE
Following is a September 19 KOB, TV news report:
DEA Says Meth Is To Blame For Albuquerque’s Crime Crisis
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration claim meth from Mexico is to blame for Albuquerque’s violent crime and homicide rate.
By KOB’s count, there’s been at least 56 murders in 2020.
“Drugs do play a big part in driving violent crime,” said Kyle Williamson, the DEA’s special agent in charge of the El Paso division which oversees New Mexico and parts of west Texas.
Williamson told KOB 4 the DEA has brought in additional agents from El Paso to help combat drug trafficking and reduce violence.
“It’s cartel on cartel violence, it’s gang on gang violence and it leads to people who abuse it who get high and go on a rage and kill somebody,” he said.
Recently, Dakota Briscoe was arrested for allegedly shooting two people in the head then burning their bodies.
According to court documents, both victims and Briscoe had a history of selling methamphetamine.
Police also interviewed a person that claimed Briscoe had smoked meth hours before shooting and killing two people.
Williamson said meth is the biggest drug problem facing New Mexico.
“So six months ago we launched Operation Crystal Shield with the purpose of targeting methamphetamine importation and distribution,” said Williamson.
“As of last week, we have arrested 176 people and seized close to 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine along with seizing $1.1 million in drug proceeds,” he added.
Albuquerque’s violent crime rate is more than three times the national average, according to the FBI.
Williamson said the additional agents from El Paso are part of Operation Legend.
In addition to prosecuting drug traffickers, Williamson said he wants to increase the DEA’s education outreach in the Albuquerque area.
The link to the KOB story is here: