Exactly 4 years ago, in August, 2017, then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller, candidate for Albuquerque Mayor, had this to say about the city’s high crime rates:
“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.”
Fast forward to August 3, 2021. Two homicides were reported in the city in the early morning hours. The first homicide occurred at 4 a.m. near Gold Avenue Seventh Street in downtown with a man found dead in a car. The second occurred at 6 a.m. at Motel 6 on Avenida Cesar Chavez. With the 2 murders, the number of homicides in the city hit 78 surpassing the 2020 total of 77. The city is on the verge of hitting the homicide record of 80 homicides set in 2019. The alarming fact is that there are 5 full months left in the year.
KELLER AND MEDINA BOTH ADMIT FAILURE
On August 3, 2021, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference and essentially acknowledge that he and his handpicked APD Chief Medina are totally unable to stop the carnage in Albuquerque.
APD Chief Harold Medina had this to say:
“We knew we were going to break the record. … It’s something not only the city of Albuquerque is facing, it’s a national trend. … Back in January, we talked about hotels. We talked about the increase of homicides at hotels. The past few weeks we’ve talked about hotels, midnight to 5 in the morning and narcotics activities, and what’s going on behind us has all three of those elements. … The bottom line is, yes there is a lot of crime, without a doubt … there’s a lot of things going on during this midst of this pandemic that is leading to this rash in homicides.
We’re stretched thin with resources in a lot of ways and I’m not shy in saying that. I may make a decision to give homicide additional resources, but that may mean that some of the requirements of our court settlement agreement, where they want me to give more people to the academy or internal affairs, may have to be on hold as we try and get resources to fight crime in the city.”
In 2017, APD’s homicide unit had 5 detectives and recently in was increased to 14 plus 2 sergeants and a deputy commander.
Medina said it will take time to get a handle on homicides, just like the city faced when it came to auto thefts and Medina said:
“Our auto theft numbers greatly improved. That was our biggest issue in 2017 and 2016. That was the number one issue when I came and now the number one issue has changed to homicides and we are working on it. It took us a couple of years to get us the auto theft numbers moving in the direction we wanted and it is going to take us some time to get homicide numbers moving in the direction. “
Mayor Tim Keller for his part admitted the city will see a record number of murders this year and he too said it was a national trend and said:
“We obviously had two homicides this morning and our team is working on them. … The majority of homicides in Albuquerque are very specific. … They’re tied to drugs, they’re tied to guns and they’re tied to motels and they happen from midnight to five am and they usually involve males between 25 to 35. … We know El Paso’s homicide rate is up 150%. Fresno is up 300%. Oakland is up 200%. Portland is over 1,000%. … We do expect these trends to continue and I do expect Albuquerque to break 100 [homicides] this fall.”
Keller added that there’s not one single answer to make all violent crime disappear and his administration is working with local and state agencies to find ways to cut it down.
MOTELS REPORTED AS SOURCE OF CRIME
On August 3, KRQE News 13 reported on the number of calls for service to APD and Albuquerque Fire and Rescue (AFRD) to 5 locations off Hotel Circle near Eubank and I-40. The area has a bad reputation for homelessness and violent crime. The motels are known for a high volume of calls for service. News 13 requested the Computer Aided Dispatch Service (CADS) sheets that records 911 emergency call for service and identifies the types of calls responded to by first responders of APD and AFRD.
According to the News 13 report, many of the calls for service are for disturbances, welfare checks, and suspicious people. However, the CAD sheets also show APD officers on the scene for many violent crimes. AFRD alone responded to 406 calls to these hotels. About half of the calls were to the Siegel Suites. Emergency calls for police are much higher. APD had 2,554 calls to those same five hotels in the past three years. About half of their calls were also to the Siegel Suites.
The link to the full News 13 report is here:
SEEDY MOTELS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MAGNETS FOR CRIME
From 2004 to 2009, many of the motels identified by KRQE News 13 were in fact subject “code enforcement sweeps” and targets for nuisance abatement actions with allegations that they had become “magnets for crime”. In those nuisance abatement actions, the thousands of calls for service for violent crimes were relied upon to take action, including closure and board ups.
The now defunct Safe City Strike Force was formed to combat blighted commercial and residential properties that had become magnets for crime. Thirty (30) to forty-five (40) representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Planning Department Code residential and commercial code inspectors, Family Community Services and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office participated and comprised the strike force. Seventy (70) to one hundred fifty (150) properties a week, both residential and commercial properties would be reviewed by the Safe City Strike Force.
The Safe City Strike force took action against 48 of the 150 motels along central and forced compliance with building codes and mandated repairs to the properties. The Central motels that were demolished were not designated historical and were beyond repair as a result of years of neglect and failure to maintain and make improvements. entral motels that had historical significance to Route 66 were purchased by the City for renovation and redevelopment.
The Central motels that the Safe City Strike Force took action against that had hundreds and sometimes thousands of calls for service to APD include the Gaslight (demolished), The Zia Motel (demolished), The Royal Inn (demolished), Route 66 (demolished), the Aztec Motel (demolished), the Hacienda, Cibola Court, Super-8 (renovated by owner), the Travel Inn (renovated by owner), Nob Hill Motel (renovated by owner), the Premier Motel (renovated by owner) the De Anza (purchased by City for historical significance), the No Name, the Canyon Road (demolished), Hill Top Lodge, American Inn (demolished), the El Vado (purchased by City for historical significance), the Interstate Inn (demolished).
The Safe City Strike Force was responsible for the demolition of at least seven (7) blighted motels that were beyond repair. When people were displaced by enforcement actions taken by the Safe City Strike Force, the City’s Family and Community Services Department would provide vouchers to the displaced and assist in locating temporary housing for them.
KELLER’S ADAPT PROGRAM
It was two years ago in July, 2019 that Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of the “Addressing Dilapidated and Abandoned Property Team” (ADAPT). Keller completed the dismantling of the Safe City Strike and replaced it with his ADAPT program which supposedly relies on new data to target the worst 100 properties in the city.
According the city’s web site for the ADAPT Program:
“ADAPT … leads a full inspection of the property with other City departments. The first step is to attempt to work with property owners to clearly identify the source of the criminal activity, and to assist in establishing a plan of action to correct any violations and to improve the property. If the owner cannot improve the property or fails to meet the plan of action goals, ADAPT will move to legal action.”
APD is the largest budget department in the city. APD’s approved general fund operating 2022 budget is upwards of $222 million. The 2022 approved APD operating budget has funding for 1,100 sworn positions and 592 civilian support positions for a total of 1,692 full-time positions. It also includes funding for new positions, including 11 investigators to support internal affairs and the department’s reform obligations under the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement, and two communications staffers. Notwithstanding the funding for 1,200 sworn police the number of police officers patrolling the street of Albuquerque is dangerously low. As of July 24, 2021, APD has 940 sworn police according to city personnel records, but only 369 are actually patrolling the streets of the city and that is divided in 6 area commands and 3 shifts.
According to an August 2 news report, APD patrol staffing is as follows:
369 patrol officers, for six area commands and 3 shifts
59 patrol sergeants
18 – 22 bike officers
The department is having severe problems recruiting more sworn police officers. To that end, APD is now offering hiring bonuses worth thousands of dollars as follows:
$15,000 for lateral police officers
$5,000 for cadets
$1,500 for police service aides
HOMICIDE RATES UNDER KELLER
In 2020, FBI statistics reveal that Albuquerque has the dubious distinction of having a crime rate about 194% higher than the national average. Albuquerque had more homicides in 2019 with 82 homicides 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.
A synopsis of the homicide statics during Mayor Tim Keller’s 4 years in office is in order.
2018, during Mayor Keller’s 1st full year in office, there were 69 homicides.
2019, during Mayor Keller’s 2nd full year in office, there were 82 homicides
2020, during Mayor Keller’s 3rd full year in in office, there were 76 homicides
2021, during Keller’s 4th year in office, there have been 78 as of August 4 and counting
During his full 3 years in office, Mayor Keller has initiated numerous crime-fighting initiatives. All were initiated before the pandemic hit the city hard in February of last year. March 11, 2020 is when the Corona Virus was declared a worldwide pandemic and the country began to shut down and people began to quarantine and businesses began to close.
KELLER’S FAILED VIOLENT CRIME REDUCTION PROGRAMS
It was in 2018 to 2019, during a 9-month period, and well before the COVID pandemic, that Mayor Keller in response to the continuing increase in violent crime rates, scrambled to implement 4 major crime fighting programs to reduce violent crime. Those programs are:
1. 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.
2. 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” 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.
3. The “Violence Intervention Plan” (VIP program)
On November 22, 2019 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. According to Keller vulnerable communities and law enforcement will be working together and building trust has proven results for public safety. Mayor Keller stated:
“… 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. …”
4. The Metro 15 Operation program.
On Tuesday, November 26, 2019 Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to announce a 4th 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.
It is painfully obvious that the 4 initiatives that Keller implemented to reduce violent crime and homicides have been a failure.
HISTORY OF HOMICIDE UNIT BEING UNDERSTAFFED AND OVERWHELMED
Over 3 years ago on December 28, 2017, it was reported the APD homicide unit was overwhelmed with only 11 detectives when the City reached a record high of 75 murders. APD management, which Medina was the Deputy of Field Services, did nothing to increase the size of the homicide unit.
During an October, 2019 City Council meeting, APD management said it was working on new strategies to ease the workload on APD homicide detectives. During the City Council meeting, APD Commander of Criminal Investigations Joe Burke had this to say:
“I would say in the long term if I was looking at a long-term solution—I believe we need two homicide units. I think the best practices around the nation normally have two homicide units. Detectives should be balancing between three to five investigations and we’re nearly double that.
… We absolutely need detectives in criminal investigations. … I was happy when I went over at the end of July and was briefed on the status of the unit that there’s a plan in place within the executive staff that when cadets are graduating from the academy that we’re going to get a certain percentage specifically for the criminal investigations bureau.”
On November 21, 2019 when the number of homicides hit 72, it was again advocated that the Homicide Investigation Unit be increased from 11 detectives to at least 25 detectives. Further, given the units low clearance rate and past performance, more was needed to be done then with respect to recruiting and training. At the very least, APD needed to ask for temporary assignment of personnel from other agencies such as the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s Department or the State Police to help clear out the cases.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The blunt truth is that for a good 3 years BEFORE the COVID pandemic hit the city hard in 2020 under Keller’s watch, crime rates were spiking, so much so that then candidate for Mayor Tim Keller made reducing the city’s crime rates a cornerstone to his campaign. He proclaimed himself to be uniquely qualified to be Mayor and went so far as to promise that he would hire 300 sworn police officers and grow the department to 1,200 sworn police offices by the end of his first term. Today, the department has 960 sworn police and the police academy cannot keep up with retirements.
HOMICIDE UNIT AND CLEARANCE RATES
Mayor Tim Keller and his appointee APD Chief Harold Medina have been fully aware for the last 4 years that the APD homicide unit has be understaffed and unable to keep up with the homicides. Medina especially forgets that for 3 years he was the Deputy Chief of Field Services and the problem has always existed and he did nothing. For both Keller and Medina to complain now and blame the homicide rate as being a national trend is nothing more than refusing to take responsibility in an election year for their failures.
Complicating the spiking homicide rate is the fact that APD’s homicide clearance percentage rate has now hit its lowest in the past year. According to the proposed past City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017, 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 dropped even further to 50%. In 2021, the clearance rate is down to less than 30%, likely because of the huge spike in homicides.
MEDINA EXPOSES SELF TO FEDERAL CONTEMPT OF COURT
When APD Chief Medina says “some of the requirements of our court settlement agreement, where they want me to give more people to the academy or internal affairs, may have to be on hold as we try and get resources to fight crime in the city” he is playing with fire with the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). He is also ignoring Mayor Keller’s commitment made to implementing all the reforms mandated by the CASA
Medina cannot unilaterally suspend the terms and conditions of a federal court order. If he tries, the consequences will be severe, including a contempt of court action against him and the city. Then again, that just may be the solution for removing an ineffective police chief that should have never been appointed in the first place by an equally ineffective Mayor.
MOTELS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MAGNETS FOR CRIME
It is so damn laughable that Mayor Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina are only now conceding that motels are where violent crimes and illicit drug activity are occurring. Motels for DECADES have been “magnets for crime” so much so that the city would take strong and aggressive civil code enforcement action with the Safe City Strike force declaring the properties a “public nuisance”.
Mayor Tim Keller’s ADAPT is nothing more than extensively watered-down version of the Safe City Strike Force. Confidential sources within City Hall have said that Mayor Tim Keller felt the Safe City Strike Force had too much of an “aggressive sounding title”, and he and others did not like it as fitting into his “ONE ABQ” slogan and the city wanted to soften the approach to nuisance abatement. Keller has never understood that slum lords need to be dealt in an aggressive manner to keep them from victimizing and preying on their tenants.
It is very disappointing that Mayor Tim Keller reneged on his decision to reinstate the Safe City Strike Force when the decision was made to replace the Safe City Strike Force with his own ADAPT program. The Strike Force was a proven and effective program and was recognized as a best practice nationally. Mayor Keller has only himself to blame with what is happening at the motels because it could have been prevented.
There is little doubt that crime is the biggest issue in the 2021 election for Mayor. Mayor Tim Keller, who has been in office for close to 4 years, has been been ineffective in bringing down the city crime rates. Keller knows full well that as each time a homicide occurs in the city, his prospects for a second term is diminished. When Keller identifies that homicides are also spiking in other cities such as El Paso, Portland and Fresino and that he expects Albuquerque to break 100 homicides by this fall, what he is doing is making a pathetic attempt to mitigate the damage to his election prospects for another 4 years. He does not realize he may also be predicting the death of his political career.
In politics, a record of trying and failing to deliver tends to lead to removal from office.