City launches Violence Intervention Program

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Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier introduce a Violence Intervention Program on Friday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller introduced a new Violence Intervention Program on Friday afternoon meant to address the high numbers of homicides, shootings and other categories of violent crime across the city.

The initiative was announced the same week the city hit 72 homicides – matching the highest number in recent history. But Keller said they had been planning it for months, visiting different cities and researching other programs that have worked.

“Other cities have dealt with this,” he said. “Unfortunately, in our city and our community as a whole in New Mexico, we are way behind when it comes to dealing with issues around violent crime. However this means there are a lot of cities to learn from.”

Sarita Nair, the city’s chief administrative officer, said Albuquerque Police Department officials started their research at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and then visited Oakland, which has implemented “Operation Ceasefire” – a data-driven crime-fighting strategy that coordinates law enforcement, social services and the community to reduce gun and gang violence.

The District Attorney’s Office began working on Operation Ceasefire last spring to target the most violent individuals. Its Crime Strategies Unit has been tracking all shootings with injury and looking at gang or group affiliations of offenders and victims in order to identify patterns and disrupt them.

However, Nair said, the Albuquerque program will be built to address other kinds of crime as well – including domestic violence – in addition to gang violence.

“There is a big component of gang violence here but if we focus on that we’re not going to change,” she said. “We need to make it broader than that.”

According to a study by the Giffords Law Center, Oakland’s Operation Ceasefire got going in spring of 2012. That year there were 164 homicides, but by 2013 it had decreased dramatically and, for the most part, continued a downward trend.

“How fast it works is important, how long it lasts is more important,” Nair said. “We really feel like this program can break an inter-generational cycle of violence so that the next time there’s a budget contraction and someone makes difficult decisions about police staffing it’s not going to have the effect it had here because we were not looking at the underlying factors of crime.”

The four key parts of the Violence Intervention Program include:

• Restructuring APD to create a Violence Intervention Division with its own commander to encourage investigators in specialized units, as well as forensic technicians, crime analysts and victim advocates to work together.

• Collaboration between prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney and Office of Superintendent of Insurance to share information and ensure that cases are going to the appropriate courts.

• Family and Community Services working with the community to identify “evidence-based violence reduction strategies” and require providers to work within the program. The city will hire a clinical social worker as the Deputy Director of Health.

• Reaching out to the Bernalillo County Community Health Council and leading “partnership-based violence reduction efforts to improve police-community trust and sustain the strategy over time.”

The city will ask the Legislature for $10 million to fund the program statewide, with about $2 million going to Albuquerque, Nair said.

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