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Albuquerque police focus on countering gun violence

Albuquerque Police Department Cmdr. Chris George shows Mayor Tim Keller a display of more than 30 firearms that were collected from crime scenes over the past week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

In the first three months of the year, there were 131 nonfatal shootings around the city – roughly three every two days.

And a violent April weekend just concluded Sunday evening with an 8-year-old girl shot and critically injured in a Northeast Albuquerque home. On Monday night, a man was shot and killed on Albuquerque’s West Side.

Although almost all other crime categories have started to decrease over the past year, nonfatal shootings have increased, rising 14 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Against that backdrop, the Albuquerque Police Department and Mayor Tim Keller held a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss several proactive and reactive initiatives designed to combat gun violence.

Initiatives include:

  • Using data from APD’s Real Time Crime Center to focus on areas with a heavy concentration of gun violence and identify any patterns.
  • Forming units of officers called Problem Response Teams in each area command to work with the community daily outside of taking calls for service.
  • Identifying those who are selling firearms illegally to felons or juveniles.
  • Working with agencies and universities to conduct research on gun violence as a public health issue.
  • Implementing a standardized shooting response protocol that police must follow within the first 72 hours.
  • Purchasing new equipment, such as rapid DNA identification technology and gunshot detection systems and automating the entire DNA unit.

The city has already received state and federal money to create a Crime Gun Intelligence Center that will use new technology. And some of the initiatives discussed Monday, including increased use of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the Problem Response Teams, have already been in the works for several months.

Public health issue

Keller and other speakers at the news conference referred to gun violence as a public health issue, saying such incidents can have lasting adverse effects on children and others in the community that can then lead to further problems down the line.

“I believe we need to treat gun violence with a sense of urgency,” Keller said. “When you think of what is literally filling up our emergency rooms, it is a result of gun violence.”

Police Chief Michael Geier holds up a placard officers can hang on doors to encourage residents to call with information about a crime. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Rather than treating gun violence like its own issue, Keller said, the Police Department will start examining how guns are driving other crimes.

“For too long, I believe we have fallen into a trap where we say gun violence is ancillary to a lot of the other crimes that are happening when it is part of that formula,” he said. “It is difficult to talk about crimes associated with addiction, with domestic violence, without also talking about the guns that are used in those crimes.”

To treat the issue holistically on a community level, Deputy Chief J.J. Griego said, the Police Department implemented Problem Response Teams made up of officers who don’t take calls but will be available to help community members as they need it. He said that after a violent crime, the teams, along with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, will visit the neighborhood and provide resources or information.

Teams are already stationed in the southeast and southwest parts of the city, but the department hopes to install them in each area command.

Albuquerque Police Department officers investigate after an 8-year-old girl was shot and critically injured in Northeast Albuquerque on Sunday evening. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

On Sunday, two days after a 5-year-old girl was beaten to death, allegedly by her own father, a Problem Response Team visited the apartment complex to provide contacts for community resources and help any neighbors who may be struggling.

“What we want to accomplish is making sure that not only are we there at the time of the incident, but that we provide some aftercare and reduce the fears that occurred during these shootings,” Deputy Chief Harold Medina said. “A lot of times, the lack of information leads to uncertainty and unknowns, which increases their fears.”

He said these meetings can also help generate new leads and witnesses, which can then be passed along to detectives.

New technology

The department also plans to get new equipment and technology that can assist officers and detectives in investigating gun crimes.

Cmdr. Chris George from the APD Crime Lab said the unit is hiring additional personnel and getting technology that will increase efficiency around testing DNA, including automating the entire unit.

“With automation, it will let the scientists focus more on the results and interpretation of the results,” he said.

He said the unit that tests DNA and the unit that tests latent fingerprints will be split in an attempt to reduce a backlog of evidence that needs to be tested.

For the past year or so, the department has been increasing its use of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network program to identify which guns have been used in multiple crimes by analyzing all casings they can find at scenes.

In addition to collecting and testing all casings at shooting scenes, Police Chief Michael Geier said, officers will follow a set of protocols within the first 72 hours after a homicide or other violent crime.

“Often, they happen overnight, and we don’t always reach the witnesses and do a complete canvass,” he said. “Within that 72-hour response, we’re going to go back and do a canvass and identify other witnesses.”

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