Fight against high crime in the center-east

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Men gather in the Central and Tramway area near the McDonald’s restaurant on Friday afternoon. Members of the Foothills Area Community Policing Council say city agencies other than the police department need to step up efforts to improve public safety. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

In 2006, Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris held a press conference calling for the demolition of a former McDonald’s restaurant in Central and Tramway NE as part of a campaign for the rejuvenation of East Central Avenue.

East Central Avenue, west, to Streetcar on Friday afternoon. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

“East Central has been a run down place, but it won’t be that way anymore. It’s going to be dynamic, ”he said at the time. “We are trying to modernize the whole area.

Fast forward to today.

In the past three months, Albuquerque Police have responded to two homicides and the discovery of a body found near the streetcar and Interstate 40, the gateway to old Route 66 and the neighborhood. from Four Hills.

Two blocks west of the Tramway, a trailer park in the far east of downtown was the scene of a recent FBI search of the “hiding place” of an alleged gang leader, where officers seized seven firearms, including two hunting rifles and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

From Streetcar to Eubank, the two-mile stretch of far East Central Avenue is littered with closed businesses, sometimes aggressive transients, open exposures to illegal drug use, mental illness, vandalism and trash, according to the inhabitants of the region.

The McDonald’s that exists today is one of the cleanest properties in the corridor. He is watched by a private security guard who rushes to escort loiterers to the door or, as recently reported, to respond to a woman undressing outside in broad daylight.

Travelers on the TripAdvisor website give dismal reviews of some of the motels in the area, with one saying they checked into a room, then packed up and left within hours due to “All kinds of dodgy stuff all night long.”

“I see people walking the streets with real swords, and it’s a scary thing,” said Vance Kabella, an Albuquerque real estate agent who grew up near the area. “These are mentally unstable people walking the streets… heavily armed and very dangerous. With the 20 and 30-year-old vagabonds, “they’re really running the streets.”

Limited APD except if crime in progress

Members of the Foothills Area Community Policing Council concluded that there is little that Albuquerque police can do to tackle chronic crime in the East Central Corridor. The volunteer council says other city agencies need to step up efforts to improve public safety.

“Police are very limited in what they can do unless there is genuinely a violent crime going on,” said Robert Carleton, chairman of the Foothills Community Policing Board, one of the six boards of volunteers put in place in the city as part of its 2014 police reform regulation. agreement with the US Department of Justice.

Foothills council sparked controversy when it concluded that crime in the hallway is in part exacerbated by a city-funded voucher program intended to provide temporary housing to people living in several motels west of Tramway on Central .

“Businesses, residents and motel residents have expressed concern about the extreme danger (highest number of calls per week in all concentrated areas of the city and state) in the Tramway / Central motels. We are told that these vouchers are issued at will, without supervision or supervision. These vouchers are not tracked or coordinated between agencies. As a result, many of these vouchers are issued to uncontrolled repeat offenders, ”said a report and recommendations unanimously approved by the police council on June 14.

“The objective reality is that conditions along the east-central and situational and preventable crime-strewn motels have become a serious problem for businesses in the region,” the report said.

In addition to depleting police resources that could be used to respond to calls from the rest of Foothills Command, crime in or near motels presents “an unfortunate sight for tourists and travelers passing through Albuquerque,” said the board.

The police council recommends tighter controls on the voucher program and urges more aggressive enforcement of harmful property code along the corridor.

The recommendations, which were submitted to the ODA administration, were not well received.

Some say the council is off-base and unfair to the homeless and the housing program. Others wonder if the board is working out of its way.

“First of all, CPCs are supposed to focus on issues related to the justice ministry and the reform process, not make recommendations on crime trends,” the APD spokesman said. , Gilbert Gallegos, in an email. , which predate the issuance of vouchers, ”said Gallegos.

“The Foothills Area Command has continuously worked with neighborhoods and business owners to develop operations to combat crime in the area. We do the same in all six area commands, and all of them have areas with specific challenges. “

“Service calls are high in these areas of the city,” he said, not just to Tramway and Central.

The newspapers’ requests to interview police officers from the Foothills Area Command were not granted.

The city’s website describes the mission of community policing boards as follows: “The goal of each community policing board is to engage in a frank, detailed, and meaningful dialogue between Albuquerque police and the citizens they serve.” . The councils are independent of the city and the department. They are encouraged to formally recommend changes to the policies and procedures of the Albuquerque Police Department. They are also invited to make recommendations and identify concerns, problems, successes and opportunities within each area command and for the department as a whole.

The voucher program provides shelter

The city spends approximately $ 225,000 per year to provide temporary vouchers to 26 motels in the city under contracts with four nonprofit groups. To be eligible, a family or individual must be homeless. An entrepreneur cares for those recovering from illness or injury and their families.

The program funded by the Department of Family and Community Services provides shelter to approximately 45 households per month for a maximum of seven to 14 nights.

“DFCS monitors all contracts to verify that contractual obligations are met, including the length of time a voucher is provided,” the department told the Journal in an email. “Unfortunately, just as we’ve seen in other cities since the pandemic, there have been issues of criminal activity in some motels. While troubling, it is unfair and inaccurate to attribute these problems to a program that helps homeless people. “

No motel manager interviewed by the Journal reported problems with customers on city vouchers. Some have said that it can be difficult to persuade a voucher recipient to leave after the temporary stay.

“When people hang around gas stations, begging for money, under highways, stuff like that, that’s what contributes to crime. Not the voucher program, ”said a manager of a Rodeway Inn on East Central who gave only his first name, Daniel. “People with vouchers are just homeless; they have families and they are trying to get back on their feet.

He said his motel “is very strict” and hires a private security company to keep the peace.

And it’s another remedy that could help reduce crime in the area, said Craig Michaelis, chief financial officer of Duke City Security, which patrols the Sprouts Farmers Market in the mall on the southwest corner of Tramway. and Central.

“Really, it’s just about having security guards in general or the police,” Michaelis said last week. “This whole area, because of the foot traffic and the transients going through it, as long as there is a visible deterrent, it will help reduce crime. “

Recently, his security team encountered an individual with a gun. The team secured the weapon and called APD to follow up.

“We’re really not allowed to secure anything more than 16 feet from the Sprouts front door,” he said. “Our guards will tell us around the area, there are incidents happening all the time, but there’s not much we can do there.”

“We are not going to put up with this”

Kabella is one of the new members of the Foothills Council. Each council appoints its own voting members who must live or have businesses in their respective regions. Members serve two-year terms.

A resident of Four Hills, Kabella says his job takes him to the streetcar and downtown district several times a day.

In the past, he saw the same faces as the ones lurking, “but I would say over the last 30 days I’ve seen 100 different individuals, and that’s a lot, running around street corners,” Kabella said. “It’s my streets that worry me.

Recently, he said, a friend was accosted while pumping gasoline at Smith’s off Tramway near Central and called him.

“A man approached her as she turned her back to him and asked for money. She was totally panicked and jumped into her vehicle, ”Kabella said.

The friend was in her 30s and in good physical shape, Kabella said. “What concerns me are the elderly, they are the ones who pay the most. They think they had better get over it or that there will be repercussions.

Kabella said that due to the lack of personnel “the police are doing their best.”

Over the past year, council has also recommended ways to limit street racing and increase public safety at Singing Arrow Park, south of Central, by asking municipal park workers to prune trees and trees. shrubs to provide better visibility for APD monitoring.

Meanwhile, Harris is not running for re-election this fall for the District 9 council seat he has held since 2005.

At a press conference on the old McDonald’s in 2006, he noted that the closed restaurant “has been sold out for months.”

“There are homeless people who broke in here and used it to sleep. They made fires. … We have to send a message to people and businesses – everyone in this part of town – that we are not going to put up with this, ”he said.

Asked for an interview last week, Harris, through a spokesperson, said he was unavailable.

But the city launched a new campaign last month, approved by city council last year, to promote Central Avenue.

Marketing firm will receive up to $ 500,000 to strategize 14 mile stretch of Central Avenue between Unser Boulevard in the west and Tramway Boulevard in the east to attract businesses, local residents and visitors in the hallway, according to a request from the city for a proposal.

The proposal says the campaign aims to promote a “period of secure economic recovery, but also to reverse the public’s negative perception of Central Avenue.”


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