A multi-jurisdictional team, six months of ground-laying, dozens of undercover drug buys and a hefty dose of community cooperation. That’s what it took for federal, state and local law enforcement agents to pull off an investigation that culminated March 29 in a series of pre-dawn raids in Albuquerque’s International District.
Twenty people – many with lengthy rap sheets – were swept up in the operation, along with drugs and guns. This was an impressive endeavor.
The joint investigation into the neighborhood involved the FBI, New Mexico State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department’s armed robbery unit, operating under a federal initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. And calls from concerned residents, business and property owners appear to have planted the seeds for the investigation last fall. It’s the kind of buy-in to public safety you see from people who care deeply about reclaiming their neighborhood from crime.
Once they had the information, it appears investigators worked to build a solid case from the ground up. The search warrant affidavit that has been released indicates the task force wasn’t wasting time on small fry. The houses raided were believed to be drug supply houses, storefronts for the sale of methamphetamine, heroin and crack-cocaine. One particularly brazen anecdote from the affidavit described an armed suspect selling drugs in the parking lot of a drug rehabilitation facility.
In other words, this was the kind of case we want to see taxpayer money paying for: thorough, painstaking and concentrated on the worst types of career criminals.
The defendants arrested in the raid will move through the court system with the presumption of innocence. But with six months of homework under their belts, we expect investigators made arrests knowing they have the evidence to put dangerous and violent criminals behind bars. More than that, we expect such actions will lead to a safer neighborhood and this level of case-building is the new normal for fighting serious crime here.
Four days of violence
What worked in the March 29 raid seems even more important in the wake of a particularly violent four days in metro Albuquerque/Bernalillo County.
• Thursday, Carlos Armijo, 42, was gunned down outside his South Valley home; Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies say it was retaliation after a fight outside a taco truck.
• Friday morning, first responders found the battered and unresponsive body of 5-year-old Sarah Dubois-Gilbeau; her father has been charged in her death, allegedly beating her with a shoe for not doing homework he assigned.
• That same day, 19-year-old Eric Apisa was pronounced dead, three days after being shot in the head during an apparent drug deal.
• Also Friday, BCSO deputies found a body with signs of trauma in a ditch in the 1700 block of Bridge SW. They identified the man as Manuel Barraza, 49.
• APD officers shot Pedro Escalante, 26, Friday night after he fled an “altercation” in a stolen vehicle, crashed into a car and pointed a gun at police during a foot chase.
• Saturday, a woman was found slain in a home in the 1100 block of Via Chamisa NE.
• Also Saturday, a couple was found dead in a home in the 600 block of Princeton SE, south of the University of New Mexico.
• And Sunday, a young child was hospitalized after being shot in a Northeast Albuquerque home.
Mayor Tim Keller on Monday held a news conference to detail what the city plans to do to combat gun violence – a tough challenge, especially given the fact that often the victims know their killers. Family relationships, drug deals, disputes among acquaintances – they paint a picture of an ingrained culture of violence that can seem insurmountable.
Combatting this level of violence takes all of us to be engaged. If you see or hear something that’s not right, pick up the phone to call police, not text a friend.
The brave people who called in tips to police in the International District serve as a reminder to all of us – even those in crime-plagued neighborhoods – that you don’t have to remain silent in the face of crime.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.