In 2017, then State Auditor Tim Keller campaigned to be elected mayor on the platform based in part on promising to bring down the cities skyrocketing violent crime rates and murder rates. Candidate for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about the city’s high crime rates at the time:
“It’s unfortunate, but crime is absolutely out of control. It’s the mayor’s job to actually address crime in Albuquerque, and that’s what I want to do as the next mayor.”
2021 BEGINS WITH 7 MURDERS IN 18 DAYS
As of January 18, 2021, there have been 7 homicides recorded in the city, close to one every other day. Only one of the 7 cases has resulted in an arrest. On Monday, APD released details on all 7 homicides. A link to a news report is here:
During the week of January 11, APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said APD believes new crime-fighting programs are working to bring down violent crime and had this to say:
“We have our Gun Violence Reduction Unit, we have our Street Crimes Unit, we now have the VIP program, that’s shown to be very effective on the intervention side. So, we really need to tackle this from every angle. … It’s reasonable [to believe the city will see homicides will go down in 2021] … We’re really shooting for that. … We need to get these guns off the streets and arrest these guys and keep them behind bars.”
Technology is also playing a role with the investigation of gun violence. APD has implemented the “Shot Spotter Gunshot Detection System” which is part of APD’s Real Time Crime Center. The device alerts APD officers when a shooting occurs in certain areas of the city so they can be dispatched to the scene.
APD VIOLENT CRIME PROGRAMS INITIATED 2019
In 2019, Mayor Tim Keller reacting to the spiking violent crime rates, announced 4 programs in 9 months to deal with and bring down the city’s high violent crime rates . Those APD programs are:
The Shield Unit
Declaring Violent Crime “public health” issue,
The Metro 15 Operation and
The “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP Program).
This blog article is a discussion of all 4 programs with an emphasis on updating progress made with the VIP program. The VIP program is viewed as having the biggest potential to bringing down violent crime.
THE SHIELD UNIT
In February 2018 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) created the “Shield Unit”. The Shield Unit assists APD Police Officers to prepare cases for trial and prosecution by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office. The unit originally consisted of 3 para legals. It was announced that it is was expanded to 12 under the 2019-2020 city budget that took effect July 1, 2019.
DECLARING VIOLENT CRIME “PUBLIC HEALTH” ISSUE
On April 8, 2019, Mayor Keller and APD announced efforts that will deal with “violent crime” in the context of it being a “public health issue”. The program is intended to deal 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 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.
METRO 15 OPERATION
On Tuesday, November 26, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to announce a 3rdOn program within 9 months to deal with the city’s violent crime and murder rates. At the time of the press conference, the city’s homicide count was at 72, matching the city’s record in 2017. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year. As of Friday, December 17, 2020 there have been 75 homicides in 2020.
Keller dubbed the new program “Metro 15 Operation”. It is part of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) Keller announced on November 22. According to Mayor Keller and then APD Chief Geier the new program is designed to target the top 15 most violent offenders in Albuquerque. In other words, it’s the city’s version of the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. According to Keller, the top 15 will be identified by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Once a violent offender is caught, another violent offender will be added to the list.
“VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PLAN” (VIP PROGRAM)
On November 22, Mayor Tim Keller announced what he called a “new initiative” to target violent offenders called “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP). The VIP initiative was in response to the city’s recent murders resulting in the city tying the all-time record of homicides at 72 in one year. Mayor Keller proclaimed the VIP is a “partnership system” that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and social service and community provides to reduce violent crime.
The VIP program is modeled after the City of Oakland’s “Operation Ceasefire” and developed with the help of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The goal of the VIP program is to reverse the spike in gun violence that has left hundreds injured or dead.
The 4 major components of the VIP program are:
LAW ENFORCEMENT: APD was “restructured” to create a first-of-its-kind “Violence Intervention Division” with its own Commander. The division is designed to make cross-functional partnership as productive as possible.
PROSECUTION PARTNERS: Prosecutors from all systems including the Attorney General, District Attorney, US Attorney and Office of Superintendent of Insurance will collaborate to share information and make sure cases are going to the appropriate teams and courts.
SOCIAL SERVICES: The City has always funded social services aimed at violence reduction. However, for the first time Family and Community Services is specifically working with the community to identify the most effective evidence-based violence reduction strategies, and requiring providers to work together in the Violence Intervention Program.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS: The City will reach out to community partners, including the Bernalillo County Community Health Council, that are dealing with the causes and effects of violent crime to work together on this program.
On August 18, Mayor Tim Keller introduced his Violence Intervention team and said in part:
“This isn’t about Power Point slides or interesting analysis. … This is about trying to get these people not to shoot each other. …This is about understanding who they are and why they are engaged in violent crime. … And so, this actually in some ways, in that respect, this is the opposite of data. This is action. This is actually doing something with people. This is not just running reports and I think that’s a marked difference with what the city has done in the past.”
According to Keller vulnerable communities and law enforcement will be working together and building trust has proven results for public safety. The goal of the team is to find crucial common ground, build new relationships, and significantly reduce gun violence in our neighborhoods.
The four individuals introduced as part of the program are:
Jerry Bachicha, Violence Intervention Program Manager
APD Commander Luke Languit
Tonya Covington, Division Director of Rapid Accountability
Angel Garcia, Social Services Coordinator
All 4 work as a team to deliver “custom notifications” to people affected or involved with gun violence in an effort to get them help so they can avoid further involvement with violent crime.
UPDATE OF “VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAM” (VIP)
It has been over a year since Mayor Keller and APD announced the Violence Intervention Program (VIP). On December 27, an update on the success of the VIP program was given where APD Commander Luke Languit , Social Services Coordinator Angel Garcia and Program Manager Gerri Bachicha were interviewed. A link to the full report is here:
HOW THE VIP PROGRAM WORKS
According to APD Commander Luke Languit, the VIP Program process first starts when they consult with law enforcement partners in the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office about whom to approach. Almost all of those chosen to be approached are involved in criminal groups or gangs. Some of the people selected for an “intervention” have been victims of crimes while others were at the scene of a shooting or were otherwise connected to the violent crime.
VIP Program Manager Gerri Bachicha had this to say about those selected for the program:
“Mostly these are all group-involved folks who have been harmed through gun violence and are, according to statistics, more likely than other people in our community to be harmed again through gun violence, or even killed, or to maybe end up in jail because of gun violence. … We want to intervene in that cycle so they don’t have to live that type of life anymore.”
According to VIP Social Services Coordinator Angel Garcia, an intervention is then scheduled once a person is identified for the VIP Program. APD Commander Luke Languit goes to a person’s house that have been identified to perform what is called a “customs” visit. The person is presented with a letter personalized outlining their criminal history. The person is told they could face more serious legal consequences, or get seriously hurt or killed, if they continue to engage in gun violence. According to Garcia, the VIP program offers to connect them with resources they might need, such as job training, food banks, rental assistance or help getting into school.
LIMITED PROGRESS REPORTED
On December 27, VIP Program Manager Gerri Bachicha said that there has been progress made with the program. According to Bachicha, 74 interventions have been conducted since late March and none of those people interviewed and counseled have been reported for committing a gun crime, or any other crime at least that they know. Notwithstanding, Bachicha said the VIP program will monitor those brought into the program for a long time and said:
“We know that it’s not falling off within six months, but we need to continue to track that to see if it falls off within a year, within a year and six months, within two years, and then we need to increase our ability to lengthen that.”
Bachicha said the VIP program will be considered successful if shootings decrease overall in the City. Reviewing the data reflects that shootings decreased in in the last few month of 2020, but there were more shootings in 2020 than in 2019. Shootings in the few first weeks of January are up.
SORTING OUT WHAT’S WORKING DIFFICULT
With at least 4 major crime-reduction initiatives going on across the city it is difficult to tell which are actually bringing down violent crime if at all. However, an attempt will be made. VIP Program Manager Gerri Bachicha put it this way:
“Sorting that out, what correlates to which program, what really helped, what really worked, that’s going to be important research going forward. … We are going to be partnering with [the University of New Mexico] for some of that research. It’s going to take a lot of research, and it’s going to take a couple of years to have enough data to look at those correlations.”
The city did issue grants to two entities to help with the VIP program of reaching out to help those identified for the program. Youth Development Inc. (YDI) received a$468,090 and the University of New Mexico Young Hospital Children’s Health Center received $264,910.
During last year’s January 2020 legislative session, $10 million was asked for to start the VIP program across the state with $2 million of that to go to Albuquerque program, but the funding failed to make it through the 2020 session.
The cities record breaking number of murders for the last 3 years are only a small part of the city’s overall violent crime problem. The crime statistics that gage the success or failure of the city’s programs must include not just actual murders but the arrest rates and high violent crime rates. For that reason, those statistics merit review.
HOMICIDES SPIKE DURING THE LAST 3 YEARS
In 2018, during Mayor Tim 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 in 2017 when 72 homicides were reported in Mayor Berry’s last year in office. The previous high mark was in 1996, when the city had 70 homicides. The year 2020 ended with 76 homicides, the second-highest count since 1996. The decline dropped the homicide rate from 14.64 per 100,000 people in 2019 to about 13.5 in 2020.
HISTORICALLY LOW HOMICIDE CLEARANCE RATES
For the past three years during Mayor Keller’s tenure, the homicide clearance percentage rate has been in the 50%-60% range. According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017, under Mayor Berry the clearance rate was 70%. In 2018, the first year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 56%. In 2019, the second year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade. In 2020 the clearance rate has dropped to 50%. Of the 75 homicides thus far in 2020, half remain unsolved. There are only a dozen homicide detectives each with caseloads high above the national average.
The number of arrests for the four years of 2016-2019 are as follows:
2016: 14,022 total arrests made
2017: 13,582 total arrests made
2018: 15,471 total arrests made
2019: 15,151 total arrests made
FOUR YEAR TOTAL OF ARREST MADE BY APD: 58,226
Editor’s Note: Statistics for 2020 unavailable
In 2018 during Mayor Keller’ first full year in office, there were 6,789 violent crimes, 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.
2020 VIOLENT CRIME STATS
On Monday, September 21, 2020, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released statistics that revealed that overall crime in the city is down slightly across all categories in the first six months of 2020 as compared with the first six months of 2019. Crimes against persons are all violent crimes combined and include murder, deadly weapons assault and injury and rape. The decreases in “violent crime” from 2019 to 2020 was a decrease by only 21 crimes or a 0.28%. Over a two year, it decreased 4%. According to the FBI statistics released, there were 7,362 crimes against persons reported in the first six months of 2020 and there were 152 more in the second quarter than in the first.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It was very difficult to keep a straight face when Mayor Keller said in describing the “Violence Intervention and Rapid Accountability Diversion Programs”:
“This is about trying to get these people not to shoot each other. … This is about understanding who they are and why they are engaged in violent crime. …”
What Keller was attempting to describe was VIP program professionals reaching out and sitting down with violent criminals to discuss their propensity to murder and to stop them from committing another violent crime. Good luck with that! Violent repeat offenders who have killed are more likely than not going to change their violent ways with interventions. Violent gang members usually take some degree of pride in taking a life, with some having a tattoo of a tear drop under their eye.
VIP Program Manager Gerri Bachicha said that 74 interventions have been conducted since late March, 2020. She added that none of those people in the program who have been interviewed and counseled have been reported for committing a gun crime, or any other crime that they know. That’s all fine and good, but 74 interventions is not even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the cities arrests, homicides and violent crime that are in the thousands.
To be perfectly blunt, what the VIP outreach program is doing is what is done by state probation officers who manage thousands of convicted violent felons a year, including those convicted of armed robbery, murder and rape. The efforts being made by the VIP program are commendable with a very idealistic approach being taken to try to intervene and provide counseling and direction.
In 2017, Candidate Tim Keller campaigned to get elected Mayor on the platform of implementing the Department of Justice (DOJ) mandated reforms, increasing the size of APD, returning to community-based policing and a promise to bring down skyrocketing crime rates. Mayor Keller no doubt sincerely thought he could do a better job than his predecessor and he could actually make a difference. The truth is, he has not and crime in the city has only become worse since Tim Keller has taken office, especially in terms of violent crime.
In order to have any real success, all 4 programs Keller initiated IN 2019 need to be ratcheted up way beyond where they are today, otherwise they will continue to fail. The VIP program will have to be increased with hundreds of interventions, not a mere 74, otherwise it will have very low or no impact on violent crime. Working with the state probation office would in all likely help to identify those the VIP program are trying to reach.
A link to a related blog article is here: