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Journal poll: 99 percent of asked say crime a serious problem in ABQ

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Registered voters in Albuquerque give high marks to police officers and to District Attorney Raúl Torrez.

But Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and District Court judges didn’t fare so well in a new Journal Poll.

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The favorability ratings come as crime dominates the mayoral race. Indeed, when voters were asked how much of a problem crime is in the city, 99 percent said it was a very serious or somewhat serious problem.

“Yikes,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., the firm that conducted the scientific survey. “You don’t get any bigger than that. This confirms what we all thought.”

The survey was conducted Sept. 11-14.

For the poll, 516 likely voters were asked: How much of a problem would you say crime is in Albuquerque? Do you think it is a very serious problem, somewhat serious problem, minor problem, or no problem at all?

“Republicans are more likely to say it’s a very serious problem (91 percent, compared with 79 percent of Democrats),” Sanderoff said.

Grading job performance

The survey also asked likely voters to grade the job performance of Torrez, Eden, district judges and rank-and file Albuquerque police officers. Specifically, voters were told: Using a report card-style grading system – A, B, C, D or F – please rate the job performance of the following people.

Eden received A’s and B’s from 29 percent of those surveyed, C’s from 33 percent and D’s and F’s from 32 percent. Republicans gave Eden higher marks than Democrats did.

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Sanderoff notes that Eden walked into a “political hornet’s nest” when he took over as police chief in February 2014. Within three weeks after he became chief, Albuquerque police officers shot James Boyd, a homeless man, as he turned away from them. The shooting was caught on video.

Eden has also had to deal with the Department of Justice finding that Albuquerque police engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive force, and the city’s resulting settlement with DOJ.

“I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone,” Sanderoff said. “He was obviously put into a pretty tough spot when he took on this job, and what we’re seeing is that the voters are divided on his job performance, where a similar percentage of voters give him an A and a B compared to a D and an F.”

Rank and file did well

By contrast, the rank-and-file officers Eden oversees emerged with the highest marks, receiving A’s and B’s from 59 percent of those surveyed, C’s from 27 percent and D’s and F’s from 12 percent.

“I think the Police Department has come a long way in the last (few) years since the Boyd incident,” Sanderoff said, referring to the DOJ reforms, the increase in training and the decrease in police shootings. “I think these numbers would have been much lower three years ago.”

Sanderoff notes that there’s significant variation in how Democrats and Republicans perceive officers, with 77 percent of Republicans surveyed giving them A’s and B’s.

“Republicans are almost twice as likely to rate them highly,” he said. “That’s not shocking to me. We saw the same thing with the police chief. … Republicans are more law-and-order oriented. Speaking generally, they’re more likely to support police officers through thick and thin than Democrats are. But here even among Democrats, we’re seeing 46 percent rate the rank-and-file police officers an A or B, and 16 percent a D or F. That’s not bad.”

DA gets high marks

Torrez, who took over as district attorney in January, also had high approval numbers, although 37 percent had not yet formed an opinion of him. Sanderoff said that’s a relatively low number, given that he’s been in office for only nine months.

Torrez received 37 percent A’s and B’s, 21 percent C’s and 5 percent D’s and F’s.

“I think the district attorney’s numbers are pretty good, especially given his brief tenure as DA,” Sanderoff said.

“There are just many, many agencies that have a hand in the criminal justice system, which impacts the crime rates in Bernalillo County,” he said. “On the one hand, our crime rates are up. … We hear a lot about the dismissal rates in the courts, the give and take between the district attorney and the courts about how difficult it has become to detain a person arrested and hold them over till their trial.”

Sanderoff said Torrez has been very visible in his attempts to reform the criminal justice system.

“He has been getting a lot of publicity for trying to focus the prosecution resources on the most serious offenders and the repeat offenders,” Sanderoff said. “… I think it’s paying off for him. People are recognizing the efforts that the district attorney is attempting to focus resources on the real bad guys and less on the first-timers.”

Judges taking the heat

District judges, meanwhile, have been taking heat for releasing certain defendants pending trial, and they’ve been caught up in the controversy of the high dismissal rates for criminal cases. Those controversies are reflected in their approval ratings.

Judges received A’s and B’s from 21 percent of likely voters, C’s from 32 percent and D’s and F’s from 34 percent.

“Many voters have been paying attention to these controversies going on within the criminal justice system and the role the judges play in there,” Sanderoff said. “There are people from focus groups that we’ve conducted who are very concerned about what the voters call the revolving door of criminals going in and out. That deals with the cops, the judges and the jails. They all play a role in that revolving door, and it is something that is concerning the voters, and we’re seeing here it’s impacting the overall image of judges.”

But Sanderoff cautions that institutions like courts and Congress tend to have lower ratings than individual judges or individual members of Congress. He also notes that Democrats tend to give judges higher marks than Republicans.

Nearly a quarter of Democrats gave the judges a B, compared with 12 percent of Republicans. And 26 percent of Republicans gave judges an F, compared with 11 percent of Democrats.

“We do see that Democrats are more complimentary of District Court judges than are Republicans.”

The Journal Poll is based on a citywide sample of voters who said they planned to vote this year and voted in the 2013 regular municipal election, the late-term abortion measure special election, or the 2015 regular municipal election.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Both cellphone numbers (44 percent) and landlines (56 percent) of proven municipal election voters were used.

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