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Citizen hopefulness tumbles in Albuquerque

Jessica Dyer/Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a precipitous drop from just a year ago, fewer than half of Albuquerque residents feel hopeful about the direction in which the city is heading.

Most believe crime is getting worse and have little faith in the way the government is addressing people who are homeless and mentally ill.

The information comes from a newly released “Citizen Satisfaction Survey” that Albuquerque is required by ordinance to conduct annually. The latest version was completed in November.

Although the survey’s questions are not identical every year, a few asked in both 2018 and 2019 appear to indicate mounting worry.

In the 2018 survey, 68% of citizens reported feeling “somewhat” or “very” hopeful about the city’s direction.

But the hopeful crowd shrank to 49% in 2019.

“Overall, residents appear to have somewhat mixed feelings about where the City is heading,” said a draft report prepared by Research & Polling, which conducted the survey.

It notes that 47% of respondents said they are “concerned” about the city’s direction. That’s a spike from 29% who espoused concern in 2018.

The 2018 survey was done less than one year into Mayor Tim Keller’s first term, and Research & Polling President Brian Sanderoff said those results likely reflect a “honeymoon” period that many newly elected public officials experience. He said the “hopeful” result in 2018 was, to him, surprisingly high and the new survey — taken about midway through Keller’s first term — reflects a more even balance between those who are hopeful and those who are concerned.

“I knew they had nowhere to go but down (from 2018),” Sanderoff said.

Matt Ross, a spokesman for the mayor, said timing likely played a role in the results. He said the latest poll was conducted in November amid intense media coverage of a spate of homicides that pushed the city toward a one-year record. He said there is “no question” that drove the responses.

“Our general reaction to the poll is it’s a snapshot in time,” Ross said told the Journal.

Crime and homelessness clearly loomed large over the survey results, according to Sanderoff.

Nearly one-third (32%) of those surveyed said Albuquerque has become a worse place to live in the past year, compared with 19% who said it is better. About half (48%) said they did not feel quality of life has changed. Crime was the top reason cited among those who said the city is getting worse.

More than half of the respondents said they feel that violent crime, crimes against children, crimes involving guns and auto thefts are rising.

“The number of auto thefts and home burglaries in Albuquerque has actually declined in 2019,” the report says. “Residents who are aware that auto thefts and home burglaries have gone down are much more likely to be hopeful with the direction the City is going in 2019.”

Albuquerque recorded more homicides in 2019 than during any year in recent history. City numbers have shown declines in most categories of property crime, though the administration acknowledged late last year that it had unintentionally released data for the first half of 2019 that greatly overstated the improvements.

Although most residents (65%) still report feeling safe while outside alone in their neighborhoods at night, the number who say they feel “somewhat” or “very” unsafe increased to 28% from 21% a year ago.

Although crime is hardly a new plague for Albuquerque and most categories are not increasing, Sanderoff said a “cumulative effect” may explain worsening perceptions.

“Year after year, people get more frustrated if they perceive crime as not declining and so the cumulative effect will increase people’s frustration, and that will show up in the polling data,” he said.

Keller’s office said the mayor has prioritized programs meant to combat crime and curb homelessness.

“The fact we have those problems is extremely troubling,” Ross said. “That’s why we’ve made it such a priority and that’s why we focus on it every day.”

Residents gave bad reviews to the city’s handling of homelessness, with 35% deeming it “very poor.”

Only 19% agreed that the city is doing a good job providing treatment for those with substance abuse problems and support for those with mental health issues.

Fewer than half of those surveyed agreed that the city is doing well in economic areas, such as attracting out-of-state companies and helping local businesses create jobs.

The city did not fare worse in every category, however.

The new survey showed citizens are slightly happier with the performance of first responders.

About half of residents (49%) say the Albuquerque Police Department is doing a good job handling public safety and responding quickly to emergencies, up from 45% a year ago.

The overwhelming majority (84%) agreed Albuquerque Fire Rescue is doing a good job, up from 83% in 2018.

The survey was conducted Nov. 8-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. A scientific sample of 607 adults residing in Albuquerque was interviewed by telephone for the survey, with 70% contacted via cellphone.

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