At the start of another summer weekend of bloodshed, Albuquerque police officers were called after midnight to a park where they found a screaming teenage girl beside her boyfriend’s bullet-ridden body.
He had met with friends to ask them if he could buy a gun and pulled out a roll of cash. The friends responded by opening fire and taking the money, according to a criminal complaint.
They’re now facing charges in a city that is 10th in the nation for violent crime, ranks second in car thefts and has experienced a spike in homicides in recent years.
Local politicians have blamed the situation on problems ranging from a police officer shortage to the opioid epidemic. Others point to what they see as a revolving door justice system that puts repeat offenders back on the street.
President Donald Trump included Albuquerque earlier this summer among the Democrat-led cities where he has dispatched federal law enforcement agents to support local policing efforts.
Trump highlighted the slaying of Jacqueline Vigil, a mother of two New Mexico state police officers.
The Albuquerque resident, who had fled violence in her home country of Colombia, was shot dead last year in her driveway as she prepared to leave for the gym.
With Vigil’s two sons at his side last month, Trump decried the leadership in cities like Albuquerque.
“They need it badly. They should call. They should want it. They’re too proud or they’re too political to do that,” Trump said.
Many of Albuquerque’s 600,000 residents have felt unsafe for years.
At the popular Monroe’s Restaurant, the family owners hired a private security company to monitor the restaurant and its parking lot, where they’ve found hypodermic needles and where an employee’s car was recently ransacked, Matthew Diaz, the restaurant’s operations director, said.
Monica Griego said her car has been broken into five times over the last three years and that cars have been stolen from the parking lot of Calvary Church, where she works in community relations with the church radio station.
“I’ve never felt so fearful,” Griego, 55, said. “I can’t sleep at night. I have this anxiety that someone is going to break into my car again.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller insists the city is making progress in addressing crime.
He recently introduced the officials who will lead the city’s new violence intervention program, saying it will help community members and law enforcement “find crucial common ground, build new relationships, and significantly reduce gun crime in their neighborhoods.”
Keller and fellow New Mexico Democrat politicians bristled at Trump’s July move to send agents to Albuquerque.
U.S. Attorney John Anderson of New Mexico has defended the deployment, saying the agents are involved in what he called “classic crime-fighting.”
They are working with local police officers, sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors to investigate cases and serve search warrants.
Since the agents arrived, 16 people in Albuquerque have been charged with offenses involving firearms, drugs, carjacking and other crimes, federal officials have said.
The latest federal crime statistics from 2018 show that Albuquerque’s crime rate was more than 3.5 times the national average. An Associated Press analysis of violent crime rates per 100,000 people put Albuquerque as No. 10 in the nation, just behind Stockton, California. Detroit was No. 1.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported in July that Bakersfield, California, overtook Albuquerque in auto thefts after Albuquerque held the top spot for three years in a row.
Darren White, a former sheriff of Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque, said he’s convinced that crime is out of control in the city.
The officer shortage is compounded by a change in tactics by Albuquerque police that makes them more reactive to crime instead of proactive, according to White, who is now a radio talk show host.
“Officers are just overwhelmed,” White said. “It’s hard for them to respond to all of this.”
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