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State Police presence in ABQ will be reduced

New Mexico State Police officers patrol on Central Avenue last week. State Police Chief Tim Johnson said starting Monday, 25 of the 50 officers will leave town. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico State Police officers patrol on Central Avenue last week. State Police Chief Tim Johnson said starting Monday, 25 of the 50 officers will leave town. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Less than three weeks after the “Metro Surge Operation” brought 50 State Police officers to patrol the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico State Police said they plan to cut that number in half beginning Monday.

State Police Chief Tim Johnson said late Thursday that 25 officers will return to their original posts at that time.

“The assignment was never intended to be permanent,” Lt. Mark Soriano, a State Police spokesman, said in an email. “New Mexico State Police has a plan in place to gradually reduce the number of officers assigned to the Albuquerque operation.”

Soriano did not answer questions about how many will remain through the end of the operation.

Shortly after the operation was announced, APD Chief Michael Geier said the plan was to keep extra officers in the city for 45 or 50 days – which would be until late June – or until after the 4th of July.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, also did not answer specific questions but said instead: “The State Police is a key partner in the Albuquerque area, from the auto theft initiative to the recent increased presence of patrol officers, which allowed APD officers to focus more on proactive policing strategies. We will need to continue to work with all of the law enforcement partners in the metro area to create the impact on violent crime that our community needs.”

Gallegos stressed that APD does not see the presence of State Police in the city as a “surge.”

“We have never called this partnership a ‘surge,’ ” he said in an email. “I know the State Police has, but that’s now how we view it.”

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said when the governor ordered the operation it was never the plan to keep all of the officers in the city the whole time.

“It was right before graduation weekend, the temperatures were rising, this was the beginning of summer and also a high profile weekend …,” Stelnicki said. “I wouldn’t say this is out of character for what the initial plan was.”

Criticism leveled

The operation was launched to address violent crime in Albuquerque after a University of New Mexico student-athlete was fatally shot on Central Avenue in Nob Hill.

It has received mixed reviews, with some business owners welcoming the increased police presence. But it also has been criticized on several fronts.

Six days into the assignment, two police officers in separate incidents pursued stolen vehicles and shot at suspects, injuring one. The shootings do not follow policies APD has formulated during its years-long reform effort overseen by the Department of Justice.

The incidents led to APD Forward, a community coalition of advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union, calling for State Police officers to be held to the same standards as APD while they are here.

City Attorney Esteban Aguilar said the U.S. attorneys and the independent monitor overseeing the reforms had asked about the shootings immediately after they happened.

“We got several inquiries from them about what we knew about the shootings in particular, and we provided them with links to the stories,” Aguilar said. “We’re currently in discussions with the United States attorneys regarding these issues, so I don’t have anything I can comment on now substantively.”

And on Sunday, the sheriff of Otero County, David Black, wrote an open letter calling for State Police officers to return to his jurisdiction. He said without the six officers the area lent to Albuquerque his department doesn’t have enough officers to carry out its own operations.

“With the recent decision by the Governor of the State of New Mexico to reassign 50 New Mexico State Police Officers to the Albuquerque area for help, this has taken resources from all of the counties leaving numerous counties in crisis with even less resources to combat these problems and others,” Black wrote.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, who represents the International District in Southeast Albuquerque, where the majority of the State Police officers are stationed, said his constituents have raised concerns about “overpolicing” and the high rate of misdemeanor and traffic enforcement arrests.

“They’re seeing far more misdemeanor arrests and traffic citations than they’re seeing gun arrests,” Davis said. “So they don’t feel like they’re really focusing on the work that could be the most impactful and that we really need help with.”

He said overall he’s glad State Police were able to help out but thinks there should have been more planning and directives to determine exactly what those officers should focus on.

Stelnicki said such criticisms and concerns did not influence the reduction in the number of officers stationed in Albuquerque.

“It has nothing to do with that; it is not in response to an incident or any type of call for or criticism or whatever,” he said. “This was the plan.”

Success cited

Last week, the Governor’s Office said that State Police had made more than 250 arrests, including several dozen felony arrests and 13 DWI arrests.

Updated statistics have not been provided.

Jail records indicate the majority of the arrests were for felony possession of drugs, a firearm, or a stolen motor vehicle, and for outstanding warrants and misdemeanors.

APD spokesman Gallegos said that over the last 28 days – 20 of which have overlapped with the State Police operation – there have been three fewer murders, four fewer shootings with injury, two more shootings without injury and 15 fewer incidents of property damage than in the same period last year.

Soriano said the operation has been “very successful in slowing down the rate of violent crime,” although he did not provide statistics.

“The New Mexico State Police is and will continue to be committed to proactively protecting the citizens of Albuquerque in collaboration with law enforcement agencies in and around the metro area,” he said in an email.

Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.