The final tally of murders in the city for 2021 is 117. It shattered the previous 2019 record by 36 murders.
Following is the raw data breakdown:
Total Homicides: 117
Number of “justified homicides” excluded from total: 10
Per Capita Number: 20.8 per 100,000
Number of homicides Involving guns: 97
Number of cases solve or closed: 40
Number of case solved from previous years: 10
Oldest victim: 66
Youngest victim: 2
The link to quoted source material is here:
The first homicide of 2021 happened on January 8 and the last occurred on December 31. Not at all surprising is that it is believed that the dramatic increase in homicides and robberies is drug related.
AUDIT REVEALS HOMICIDE CASES ASSIGNED TO DETECTIVES NO LONGER IN HOMICIDE UNIT
On Sunday, February 13, the Albuquerque Journal reported that during the summer of 2021 APD conducted an audit on open homicide investigations and found that there were 85 cases assigned to detectives who were no longer in the homicide unit. Among the 12 detectives listed, several had more than 10 unsolved cases and one had 16. In other words 73% of all the homicides that occurred last year were assigned to detectives that are no longer in the homicide unit.
The link to the full Albuquerque Journal article is here:
Deputy Commander Hartsock said the homicide cases range as far back as 2014, but the majority are from 2016 to 2020. According to Hartsock:
“We operated under this idea that [homicide detectives] were still going to do it … [and the detectives were not pushed to complete cases after they left the homicide unit.] … And to the defense of the detectives, they have met the families, and they literally want to solve the case. … They want to keep it because they feel like they’re the only ones that can solve it. But the practice didn’t play out that way. They have other responsibilities, other duties.”
Quoting the pertinent portions of the Journal article:
“When a detective is working on a case, the investigative documents are kept in a brown accordion folder. When the detectives left the unit, they would take that folder with them, meaning the case files are spread throughout the police department.
Now, when a detective wants to transfer to another position, the move will not be allowed until the detective’s cases are completed and submitted to the unit’s leadership, according to the memo on outstanding homicide case management.
A completed case does not necessarily have to be solved, Hartsock said, it just means that all leads have been followed up on. Once there are no more so-called door knobs to try, then the case should be transferred to the cold case unit. Hartsock said they also realized detectives had for the most part stopped referring cases to the cold case unit.
After identifying the 85 cases that were no longer being worked, the Criminal Investigations Division set up a schedule to bring the detectives back to the homicide unit for a period of 30 days at a time during which they will be tasked with working a case until there are no more leads. The transfers started in November.
Although Hartsock said he didn’t know … if the detectives had solved any of the cases, some of them might have been closed because an autopsy revealed the death was a suicide, accident or overdose instead of a homicide.
“Then let’s look at other ones where we might have a suspect already identified. I use the football analogy, like it’s on the 2-yard line, let’s go and run that ball,” he said. “If it’s a crazy ‘whodunit’? Well, let’s get it up to a point that we can transfer it to cold case.”
According to Hartsock, a change he has made is directing detectives to meet with their supervisor and write up a report after 60 days on a case summarizing where they are, who they’ve talked to and the status of lab testing and cell phone data extraction. Hartsock believes this creates more accountability to track the pace of a case so it does not languish and it will allow a case to be easily transferred to another detective.
“As, hopefully, homicides slow down and staffing goes up we are going to effectively deal with these cases systematically. None of them close, none have statute limitations on them. Our biggest fear, of course, is that we don’t want anyone to repeat crimes.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
FOUR YEARS OF HISTORICAL HIGH HOMICIDE
In 2018 there were 69 homicides. In 2019, 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. 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. 2021 ended with the city shattering the all time record with 117 homicides in one year and a per capita murder rate of 20.8 per 100,000.
CITY’S HISTORICAL HOMICIDE CLEARANCE RATE HALF NATIONAL AVERAGE
Each year since 1995, the FBI has released annually its Crime In The United States Report. Following are the national clearance rates for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 as reported by the FBI:
In 2016: 59.4%. national clearance rate for murder
In 2017: 61.6% national clearance rate for murder
In 2018: 62.3% national clearance rate for murder
In 2019: 61.4% national clearance rate for murder
From 2019 to 2020, police across the country solved 1,200 more murders, a 14% increase. But murders rose twice as quickly by 30%. As a result, the homicide clearance rate, the percentage of crimes cleared, dropped to a historic low to about 1 of every 2 murders solved or by 50%.
For the years 2019 to 2021, the city’s 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, the clearance rate was 70%. In 2018, the homicide clearance rate was 56%. In 2019, the homicide clearance rate was 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade. In 2020 APD’s clearance rate dropped to 50%. APD’ clearance rate has now dropped to 30%.
APD Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock oversees the homicide unit. On January 20, Hartsock said APD is investigating 115 homicides from last year, including a missing persons case from Belen and of that number, only about 30% have been closed, which is an all-time record low for APD.
Links to news source material are here:
APD’S HOMICIDE UNIT
APD’s homicide unit has 11 detectives and two sergeants for a total 13 sworn police. However, it was reported by an spokesperson that on January 20, the homicide unit has 5 vacancies.
Last year, homicide detectives each were working anywhere from 9 to 15 cases. Because some cases are quickly resolved, the number of “active” cases for each detective varies.
APD Police Chief Harold Medina addressed the caseload of active cases by saying:
“We also understand that they go through times where they get a lot of cases that come in. … So there’s also been a time where we took all the detectives city-wide and we transferred them into homicide for a short period to help them catch up with warrants, interviews, or anything else that may be slowing down these investigations. That’s the first step that we’ve taken.”
Chief Medina was also asked how APD will handle the 2021 cases this year in 2022 as homicides continue. In response, Medina said APD is working on developing and expanding the cold case unit and said:
“We don’t want them to lose traction. We want someone to continue looking at them. I know the impact it has on families firsthand. Earlier this year we did the story on someone I knew growing up, 30 years later, we’re able to solve that case. I know the closure that brings to families so we’re still looking to see how they are going to be handed off over and how they’re going to be handled and who, what efforts are going to be put into them. There has to be a priority system on the ones that have the most solvability factors.”
The link to the quoted news source is here:
Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock had this to say about the 30% clearance rate:
“A homicide case never closes in Albuquerque Police Department. It just never closes. We either make an arrest or the DA’s office makes a determination, or it just stays open. … We’ve seen a downward trend [in clearance rates] over the past two years, but we’re on the road to correct it now. … A lot of these things and programs that we started in the past several months, they are taking shape just specific to murder investigations, and we’re seeing higher quality murder case is being developed internally by our detectives and with our crime lab and our partners.”
Hartsock reported that in mid-January, APD made several arrests in connection to homicides. He credited that to the oversight of the day-to-day tasks for homicide detectives, adding certain milestones to a case and having more eyes looking over cases. Hartsock said this:
“Instead of just one person deciding to need a resource now, it’s a little bit more of a group deciding what resources this case needs. And then when we do review it with supervisors and people that have been doing this for a while, we’re pulling off pieces a little bit quicker.”
“WORKING ON RECIPES” TO DEAL WITH “CRUSHING” HOMICIDE CASE LOAD
Deputy Commander Hartsock said the one thing that is hindering the closure of homicide cases is the number of detectives with the number fluctuating. The homicide unit has 11 to 12 detectives and the goal is 16.
Fluctuating staffing is only part of the overall problem when it comes to homicide clearance rates. The biggest problem is the continuing rise of homicide cases. This year the department is investigating six new homicides, three of which happened in roughly 24 hours.
Hartsock had this to say:
“The average homicide detective, the research that’s been done in America for urban police departments, they seem to get more than five or six new homicide cases a year. We’ve been over that, that number for a handful of years. So it’s just it’s literally it’s just too many. That is absolutely crushing to a homicide unit because it’s not giving our primary a lot of time and space to really work that first line as far as they want to work it. They only get to work it for a day or two. And just like that, they got to work the next one. That’s not a good recipe. So we’re working on the recipes.”
Hartsock said APD has victim advocates for victims of violent crime. It includes domestic violence, sex crimes and family of homicide victims. According to Hartstock:
“We will set up an in-person meeting if they want or phone call whatever they want, and get them caught up on it. They deserve that transparency,”
APD HOMICIDE UNIT HAS DUBIOUS HISTORY OF BOTCHED INVESTIGATIONS
The APD Homicide Unit has a dubious history of botching a number of high-profile murder investigations. The APD Homicide Unit has compiled a history of not doing complete investigations, misleading the public, feeding confessions to people with low IQs, getting investigations completely wrong and even arresting innocent people.
A listing of homicide investigations reflecting negligence include:
2005 to 2008: Robert Gonzales, a mentally retarded young man was arrested by APD and charged with the rape and murder of an 11 year old neighbor. Weeks after the arrest DNA evidence confirmed Gonzales was not the offender. The Homicide and the Bernalillo County DA never turned this evidence over to the court and defense attorneys. Only after Gonzales spent 965 days in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and and only after he was released by the judge was the DNA evidence exposed.
2007 to 2011: Michael Lee and Travis Rowley, working as a group of salesmen, were arrested and charged with the murders and rape of an elderly Korean couple. Both Lee and Rowley had below normal IQs. Lee confessed to the murders, Rowley did not. Shortly after the arrests, DNA evidence excluded both men and confirmed that Albuquerque serial killer, Clifton Bloomfield was the offender. APD and the DA kept both men locked up for over a year before they were released.
2015 to 2016: Christopher Cruz and Donovan Maez are wrongly arrested for the murder of Jaydon Chavez Silver. They spent 10 months in jail before the Bernalillo County DA reviewed the entire case sent to them by APD Homicide, finding that there was no evidence that Cruz and Maez were involved. APD Homicide is alleged to have fed witnesses information for them to repeat in interviews and threaten witnesses to provide false information.
MOST EGREGIOUS NEGLIGENT MURDER INVESTIGATIONS
The most egregious negligent murder investigation is the murder investigation of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. On August 24, 2016, she was murdered, dismembered and her body was burned in a bathtub. The initial APD Homicide investigation alleged that it was Jessica Kelley that stabbed 9-year-old Victoria Martens and that Fabian Gonzales strangled her while Michelle Martens, the child’s mother, watched the murder.
Gonzales was accused of drugging, raping and killing 10-year-old Victoria. After further investigation, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was forced to abandon the prosecution’s theory of the case and forced to drop the rape and murder charges against Gonzales. DA Torrez then accused Gonzalez of helping his cousin dismember the body of 10-year-old Victoria Martens after the child was reportedly killed by an unidentified man who was looking for Gonzales for revenge.
It was revealed that Jessica Kelley did not murder the child. Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes. Forensic evidence revealed she and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were not even in the apartment at the time of the murder, they did not participate in the murder and that there was an unidentified 4th suspect in the case who committed the murder with supposedly DNA evidence found on the child’s dead body. The unidentified 4th suspect in the case is still at large.
On December 5, 2019, 17-year-old Albuquerque High School Student Gisell Estrada was arrested and charged with a murder she played no part in. She was never arrested before and had absolutely no criminal record of arrest and conviction of any crime, misdemeanor nor felony. She spent 6 full days in jail on a case of “mistaken identity.” Notwithstanding the motion for detention, Estrada was released six days later after she was arrested and the charges were dismissed.
LEADING A HORSE TO WATER
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but cannot make it drink. Same goes for the APD homicide unit.
In 2019, the firm “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services” were retained on a three-month, sole source contract for $75,000 to train the APD homicide unit on investigations. All APD sergeants, detectives and lieutenants, who investigate and supervise violent crime investigations the time, were given the training.
A total of 126 APD personnel went through and completed the training and instructions provided by a former retired APD homicide detective now with “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services”. At the time of his retirement from APD, the former APD homicide detective had a 95% clearance rate, one of the highest in the country, and has been qualified as an expert witness in high profile cases on a national level.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no getting around it. It is nothing but APD case management negligence and downright embarrassing that 85 homicide cases, or a whopping 78% of the cases from last year’s 117 cases are assigned to detectives who are no longer in the homicide unit.
The statistic without a doubt is a major red flag that the homicide unit is not a police unit any detective wants to work in. Detectives are leaving the unit as quickly as possible even after they are trained. It also indicative that homicide detectives are not “owning” the cases from start to finish because they are so overwhelmed as the body count continues to rise.
FOUR YEAR NEED IGNORED BY APD DEPUTY CHIEF AND CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA
There has been at least a 4 year need for two homicide units and far more detectives to be assigned to the homicide unit. To add insult to injury APD Chief Harold Medina was made Deputy Chief in Charge of Field Services when Mayor Keller first sworn into office 4 years ago, and Medina served in that capacity until he effectively orchestrated the termination of former Chief Michael Geier to become Chief with the help of CAO Sarita Nair .
Medina has always known how bad the homicide unit has been understaffed and has failed to perform, yet Medina did little next to nothing to increase the homicide unit. What APD Chief Medina has done in just the last year is to increase his Chief’s Office command staff from the decades normal of 3 Deputy Chiefs to a total Chief’s high command staff of 10, adding 3 new Deputy Chiefs positions and creating and hiring a whole new level of APD management by creating the positions of Assistant Commanders and hiring 14 new Assistant Commanders paying them upwards of $115,000 a year. Instead of hiring 14 Assistant Commanders at upwards of $115,000 each, Medina could just as easily hired far more APD sworn APD detectives with experience. Pay for a Master Police Officer first class with 15 years and above of service is $74,297 a year under the union contract.
The link to a related blog article is here:
During an October, 2019 City Council meeting, APD management said it was working on new strategies to ease the workload on APD sworn officers and homicide detectives. During the October, 2019 City Council meeting, then 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.”
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Given the sure number of homicides from last year and the pathetic 30% homicide clearance rate, the Homicide Investigation Unit needs to be increased to at least 25 detectives. Further, given the units low clearance rate and past performance, more needs to be done with respect to recruiting and training.
APD continues to be in a crisis mode and it needs to concentrate on recruiting seasoned homicide detectives from other departments if necessary. At the very least, APD needs to ask for temporary assignment of personnel from other agencies such as the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department or the New Mexico State Police to help clear out the cases.
The longer a homicide case takes to complete an investigation or is neglected because of lack of personnel, the less likely the cases will be solved and prosecuted. Adding to the crisis is the emotional toll an unsolved murder takes on the families of the victims.
People want results and want to feel safe. Victims of families of those killed also want justice. Taking years not identifying, arresting and prosecuting those that killed their loved ones only prolongs their mourning and it certainly is not justice.