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Last month, the Albuquerque Police Department said it had not seen the same spike in homicides experienced by many cities nationwide in 2020.
But faced with 13 killings over the past month – two of them double homicides – interim Chief Harold Medina walked back that sentiment Thursday.
“It’s apparent now that we’re starting to fall in line with a lot of issues that other major cities in the United States are seeing,” Medina said during a briefing outside APD headquarters to address recent homicides.
Medina seemed to blame the surge on stressors – like unstable employment, lack of schooling and mental health concerns – brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in uncharted territory in a lot of ways but we wanted to assure the public – we’re going to continue conducting operations and making modifications to what trends we’re seeing out there,” he said.
With three days to go, January has tied for the deadliest month in Albuquerque over the past five years, according to Journal records. The last time the city saw 13 killings in one month was September and April 2019 – and the September homicide count was driven largely by a quadruple slaying in the South Valley. 2019 went on to record the highest homicide total in recent history.
Initially, there were 15 slayings reported in the past month but APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said two of them are no longer considered homicides and a third may be classified as self-defense.
He said the death of Mark Padilla, 57, whose body was found Jan. 9 in a room at the La Quinta in Northeast Albuquerque, has been deemed justified but gave no other details. And Gallegos also said the Jan. 24 death of Jahnte Iule, 18, at a Northeast Albuquerque home has been deemed a suicide.
“There is one more investigation that may be considered justifiable, but detectives have not made that determination yet,” he said.
Police said they have identified a suspect or “possible suspect” in six of the 13 homicides, including one involving multiple suspects, but did not specify which cases. Only one arrest has been made and it is unclear if any of the cases are related.
Despite repeated inquiries, APD has not released further details on the most serious cases: a double homicide that took the lives of Antonio Guardado, 37, and Robert Carbello, 44, last Saturday night, and a triple shooting that left Aerial Mallam, 21, and Jessica Casaus-Lucero, 31, dead Wednesday night.
In the most recent killing, police responded around 10 p.m. to a shooting with “multiple victims” at the Jefferson Crossing Apartments near Montgomery and Washington NE.
APD spokesman Sgt. Tanner Tixier said initially that two women died at the scene and a man was taken to the hospital in stable condition but gave no other details.
Medina said a lot of the homicides are not random and, in some way, spark from criminal activity – mostly drug dealing and related robberies.
“The number one question is, ‘Should people feel safe?’ … We’re seeing trends in robberies that are related to narcotics and they are escalating to the point where we have homicides that occur as a result of this,” Medina said.
As for motive, Gallegos said at least four of the homicides are in some way drug-related and the others “require more investigation.”
Going forward, the command staff said they are increasing traffic stops, being more visible in hotspots and using data from gunshot detection devices to “flood” neighborhoods struck by violence in the hopes of catching those responsible.
“We want to let the bad person know that we’re not going to tolerate this anymore,” interim Deputy Chief Donovan Olvera said. “They want to commit crimes, they can just go to another city.”
In the end, Medina emphasized that crime “is not a straight line.”
“We’re going to be going through peaks and valleys and that’s where we need to make quick adjustments as a department,” he said. “These are a lot of the steps we are doing to make sure that we’re communicating amongst one another as quickly as possible to get on these trends and see how we can devote resources to the problem.”