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Editorial: ABQ’s battle transcends city limits; state support needed to keep NM safe, inviting

Some laudable progress notwithstanding – thanks, in part, to more cops on the street and community policing efforts – the most recent FBI crime statistics paint a bleak and violent picture for Albuquerque residents.

The data released last week shows the city had 1,365 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018. New Mexico as a state had only 857 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. But the most disturbing comparison: the national rate for violent crimes was just 369 per 100,000 people – meaning Albuquerque had nearly four times the violent crime rate as the United States as a whole.

We didn’t fare much better when it came to property crime. The city had 6,179 property crimes per 100,000 residents, compared with 3,420 statewide and 2,200 nationally.

And, yes, despite significant drops in auto theft over the past two years, we are still the national leader, according to Asecurelife.com.

Mayor Tim Keller noted improvement in several other crime categories for the first six months of this year – robberies were down 47%, aggravated assaults down 10% and rape down 29%.

Partnerships with federal authorities have helped get some of the repeat offenders off the streets, says APD leadership.

But the mayor didn’t gloss over the seriousness of the crime that plagues the city. In fact, the city already has recorded 63 homicides through Sept. 30, compared with 69 in all of 2018.

Curbing crime, Keller says, remains his administration’s top priority.

And he says it’s important state officials prioritize crime-fighting in Albuquerque, the state’s biggest city. “We know, unfortunately, where Albuquerque goes, the rest of the state goes – especially with crime.”

Absolutely correct, and lawmakers from around the state can’t just shrug this off as a local problem that doesn’t affect them. It does. It affects our ability to attract business and jobs, recruit doctors and other professionals, grow our economy and keep our kids here after they go to college – free or otherwise.

After a tax increase, the city is already putting significant resources toward rebuilding APD’s ranks.

Keller said through a spokesman Thursday that the city will ask lawmakers to invest in technology that brings together various data systems, such as dispatch, police reporting, charging, body camera evidence and others, to create a “modern, effective and efficient data systems infrastructure to take down crime.”

The mayor said the city also will seek “serious money” to fund substance-abuse treatment beds as a crime-fighting strategy. The county, he pointed out, already has taken important steps in that direction, and the city needs to follow suit.

The crime issue is particularly vexing for the University of New Mexico as it struggles with declining enrollment. Yes, last week, UNM reported major improvement in its auto theft numbers as a result of increased patrols, more security cameras and other strategies. All that led to a drop from 222 auto thefts and attempted auto thefts in 2017 to 133 last year. “We’re kind of seeing the results of getting the reputation for not putting up with crime on our campus,” said UNM police detective Tish Young.

But the May shooting death of UNM baseball player Jackson Weller in nearby Nob Hill is still fresh in our collective memory, and we were reminded of the dangerous territory two weeks ago when detectives said Leopoldo Jaquez, 33, was shot to death when he tried to stand up for a teenage girl being choked and beaten at a bus stop – across from UNM.

That makes recruiting a tougher sell for parents who have access to the internet – pretty much all parents.

Keller’s office says the city now has 957 officers on the street – 1,010 with current recruits and cadets – as his administration continues its efforts to ramp up APD staffing. That’s crucial to having more proactive patrols on foot, bicycles, horseback and in patrol cars. More cops and higher visibility translate into less crime, more people with felony warrants being pulled over and law-abiding residents feeling more secure.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled her support for city crime-fighting efforts by dispatching State Police to Albuquerque in a law enforcement surge after Weller’s death. As she put it, “people here have a right to feel safe.” That was a welcome move. The city’s planned request for technology and substance-abuse treatment might not be as flashy, but they are important in the long run, and one would hope the governor would be supportive.

Now, Albuquerque’s legislative delegation needs to get together with the mayor, APD Chief Michael Geier, District Attorney Raúl Torrez, city councilors and county commissioners to present a united front in Santa Fe. The oil and gas boom means there should be money available.

Because, in this case, what’s good for Albuquerque is good for New Mexico. And the stats show it’s quite literally a matter of life and death.

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.

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