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Editorial: Collaboration, not ‘nuisance’ labels, will help clean up ABQ

You can’t blame neighbors of two Albuquerque 7-Eleven stores for feeling vindicated when the City Council recently took the unusual step of slapping two operating businesses with a “public nuisance” designation (a tool usually used for abandoned buildings) and ordering proprietors to start making some changes, and fast.

How could you? People who live and work near the stores at 3801 Central NE and 5401 Kathryn SE have to put up with crime constantly spilling over onto their yards and into their communities. According to a Nov. 5 story by Journal reporter Jessica Dyer, police responded to the two stores a combined total of 733 times in one 16-month period. Most of those calls were for disturbances, but a shooting, three stabbings and multiple assaults were also reported.

But neighbors aren’t the only victims in this all-too-familiar tale. In addition to the actual crime victims and the neighbors who have front-row seats, the people who manage and staff – and likely those who own – the 7-Elevens are suffering, too. Dealing with the causes of 733 police calls is a hard way to make a living.

And slapping a label on the problem offers little hope of a long-term solution.

It’s true business owners have the responsibility to manage their environment – to replace broken lights and repair property damage, to keep surveillance equipment functional and up-to-date, to work with law enforcement and promptly report all crime. And one would think slapping a nuisance label surely got their attention, even if previous requests to do something, anything, fell on deaf ears.

But realistically, what should a store owner or manager do when fights are breaking out and people are stabbing each other in the parking lot? Surely a 22-year-old – or 62-year-old – clerk can’t be expected to jump into harm’s way to break up a violent tussle.

The obvious and most proactive move would be for store owners to limit or end their sale of liquor – or at least mini bottles of alcohol. Yes, it might put a dent in revenues, but it also might make the location less of a target for bad actors and boost sales to law-abiding residents.

It could also be that the stores’ security practices need bolstering, though to date it appears finger-pointing has won out over solution-seeking. An attorney representing both stores has said the city failed to provide a draft of its nuisance agreement before the Council voted on the issue Nov. 4, while the city claims the company wouldn’t allow store inspections. It’s hard to tell who’s ducking responsibility in this debate, and it’s not a start that promises a helpful and productive conversation, much less meaningful action for neighbors or employees.

A long-term solution requires all parties involved to have a frank and open discussion. Both sides should come to the table in a spirit of collaboration and hash out concrete objectives that are practical and clear.

Eliminating all crime in the area? A nice but unlikely achievable goal. Limiting loitering and littering? A more realistic goal that should have been addressed yesterday.

Albuquerque’s culture of rampant crime and substance abuse – which persists despite some modest gains in recent years – certainly doesn’t start and end with convenience stores. Neighbors can’t be blamed for their frustration, but neither can local business owners who worry they could be targeted next for a problem far bigger than the four walls of their enterprises.

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said, our residents have a right to live in safety. But Albuquerque employees, managers and many business owners are residents, too, and they deserve safe places to work and earn their living. It is going to take honest collaboration, not a blame game, to address a crime problem that has persisted for years.

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.