Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The Duke City is hoping to learn the tools that the Big Apple used to significantly lower its crime rate.
City and criminal justice officials from both cities have made official visits to each other this year, and Albuquerque’s police and prosecutors are trying to mimic some of the practices that America’s largest city has used for years.
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill was the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce’s main speaker at the chamber’s annual meeting on Thursday afternoon.
And David O’Keefe, the deputy chief of the trial division in Manhattan, was in a roundtable at the event and visited the recently launched Crime Strategies Unit the local District Attorney’s Office is running. The unit is essentially a team of analysts and investigators who dig deep into criminal cases to try to find larger trends and networks of violent people.
Crime drop in NYC
O’Neill started his law enforcement career as an officer in New York City in 1983. During the course of his career, he witnessed the city go from a violent place to one of the safest big cities in the world.
In 1990, 2,245 homicides were committed in New York City, a rate of 30 per every 100,000 people. Last year, there were 292 homicides in New York City, a rate of 3.4 per every 100,000 people, he said.
Albuquerque’s murder rate last year was about 13.4 for every 100,000 people.
“The level of crime we’re seeing in New York City, we haven’t seen this level since the early 1950s,” O’Neill said at the luncheon.
New York has deployed several strategies that O’Neill said he believes have helped reduce crime and improve community relations. In May 2015, the city restructured four police precincts so they were more aligned with neighborhoods. And they gave those precincts enough resources so officers spent one-third of their shifts not on patrol and instead went to community meetings and interacted with residents.
O’Neill said that program has since been expanded to other precincts, and it’s helped improve relations between police and community.
In New York City, like in Albuquerque, that relationship deteriorated in 2014. New York City was dealing with the aftermath of the killing of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police. Albuquerque also had a significant number of protests that year after the fatal shooting of homeless man James Boyd by two police officers.
“Every day, there were protests in New York City and across the nation,” he said, which culminated with the assassination of two city police officers. “This is why we had to change. I could not see our city, our nation, our cops having to go through that. For a young cop to be out there on those demonstration lines and to hear what was being said to us, it was a very difficult moment.”
O’Neill also said it’s important to focus police enforcement on criminals who commit the most serious crimes, and not enforce low-level offenses against otherwise law-abiding people.
“If there’s a guy walking home from work with a beer and you give him a criminal court summons, how does that affect crime? It doesn’t,” he said. “It eats away at trust.”
Crime Strategies Unit
District Attorney Raúl Torrez’s office recently launched a Crime Strategies Unit, the first of its kind in New Mexico.
New York City and many of the other largest cities in the country have had similar programs for years. Prosecutors said the units can help reduce the total number of prosecutions but lead to more efficient cases against more dangerous suspects.
Torrez said in an interview with Journal reporters and editors on Thursday that the unit is already finding success. He said that police recently arrested four suspects, each driving a stolen car, a fourth-degree felony.
Such cases wouldn’t normally get a large reaction from prosecutors. But after the Crime Strategies Unit examined the suspects’ arrest and property records, social media accounts and other data, the office learned that the group is part of much larger, unknown criminal network now believed to be connected to gun crimes, drug trafficking and possibly unsolved homicides.
“We didn’t know what we were dealing with. But now we do,” Torrez said.
He said he soon hopes to announce a significant number of arrests as a result of that investigation.
O’Keefe said that in New York City, prosecutors have used similar data to reduce prosecutions but focus on dangerous offenders. In 2010, New York City prosecuted 105,000 criminal cases. This year, it will prosecute about 57,000 cases. But the city’s crime rate has dropped in that time.
“In some ways, (CSU is) the central nervous system of our office,” O’Keefe said. “There’s so much information in cases that come into the office that settles in folders. … And you don’t make connections between those cases, and you lose opportunities.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the city has already started incorporating some ideas after working with NYPD.
“It’s sort of an interesting and unlikely partnership,” he said. “When I ran for mayor, I had no idea we would have such good friends in the Big Apple.”