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APD homicide unit underwent many changes in 2018

Sgt. Dennis Tafoya, of the Albuquerque Police Department homicide unit, at a news conference in September. Tafoya has since been promoted and left the unit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Police Department’s homicide unit has seen a lot of changes in the past year – the first under a new mayor and police chief.

It’s doubled in personnel, going from five detectives in 2017 – a year with a record-breaking number of killings in the city – to 10 detectives by the end of 2018.

And the sergeant who led it for the past year, Dennis Tafoya, has moved on to another post. Rick Ingram is now the acting sergeant while the department tries to find a permanent replacement.

In 2018, the unit solved 56 percent of its cases, including six from previous years.

That’s down slightly from 2017 when detectives had a 58 percent clearance rate.

At a news conference in September, police officials touted the new hires to the unit, as well as an increased focus on tracking guns used in crimes through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.

APD also unveiled an Active Homicide Investigations page on the city’s website to provide information about unsolved 2018 cases with the goal of eliciting tips from the public.

But the page hasn’t been updated since Stephanie Martinez was killed in August 2018. There have been 22 homicides since then, 10 of which have still not been solved. Police say Martinez’s killing has been solved, so it’s unclear why it’s still on the site.

Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said he is working on updating the page.

“Waiting on detectives to solicit photos from families that want to be included,” he wrote in an email.

In a recent interview, Tafoya reflected on his time leading the unit – just six days shy of a year.

He said that due to recent inquiries from media outlets about demographics of the victims – including race and whether or not they’re homeless – he wants the unit to start keeping track of that data.

Tafoya said he has worked on standardizing the detectives’ approach to investigations and ensuring they are following the same steps in each initial callout. He said case agents, crime lab personnel and detectives meet with the District Attorney’s Office every Wednesday to discuss the details of any case that happened in the last week.

“We have cultivated a really good relationship with the DA’s Office, and they work hand in hand with us,” he said.

Tafoya was promoted in rank early January and left the unit to be a patrol lieutenant. His replacement, Ingram, made headlines a couple of years ago for being one of the officers at the scene of the controversial James Boyd shooting.

At the murder trial of former APD officer Keith Sandy and officer Dominique Perez in 2016, Ingram testified that he considered Boyd’s movements before he was fatally shot a “threat to his fellow officers.” The trial ended with a hung jury, and Sandy and Perez have not been retried.

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