No six degrees of separation for crime victims in ABQ area

As the mayor and interim police chief stress efforts to fight crime in the Albuquerque area, residents continue to experience it firsthand. And there aren’t even the old “six degrees of separation” between crime victims.

Last year, three of the six members of the Journal editorial board had family vehicles burglarized, in three different quadrants of town, with the same result.

We paid for repairs and to replace our stolen property. And to the best of our knowledge, nobody was caught.

In my case, a group of at least three individuals made their way up my street, with two men getting out of their vehicle and checking doors on residents’ cars, SUVs and trucks. When one opened, they ransacked the vehicle and handed all items to a woman sitting in the front passenger seat of their vehicle, visibly unconcerned that security lights were activated and security cameras were recording.

A neighbor alerted us to her loss the next morning, and we discovered my son’s vehicle had been emptied of tools, gym bag, etc. Our best guess is he had accidentally hit the key fob and unlocked it.

The Albuquerque Police Department had us fill out a report online and wasn’t interested in seeing the disturbing video, which showed a well-oiled machine of nonchalant thieves.

We could see them hit two driveways across the street as well as ours. They even had quality control, with one thief double-checking doors another had tested minutes before. The next day, the Nextdoor app was buzzing with other neighbors whose vehicles were burglarized.

In the case of one of my colleagues, vandals first got into his unlocked vehicle and took a 12-pack of Pepsi. The second time, they keyed all sides of his now-locked SUV, slashed all four tires and cut the brake lines. The best guess is it was a case of mistaken identity, as an unfamiliar name was carved in the hood with the plea to “come out.”

As with my case, he had to file a report online and pay a large insurance deductible.

The third colleague had her son’s car window smashed, but just the ice scraper was taken, likely because the alarm went off. This was early last year and pre-pandemic; police did respond and took a report. Repairing the window cost $500.

After three strikes in the same office space, I asked APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos about police response to burglaries. He explained “if there is no offender information, or the necessity for an officer to be physically present, the officer can take the report over the phone. This reduced the necessity to respond in person, given the potential spread of COVID-19. It also saved time for field officers so they could respond to higher-priority calls. The initiative proved to be efficient and effective, which led to the expansion of the practice for the foreseeable future.”

That makes sense on one hand – these were not violent crimes involving firearms or threat to life, none of us knew the thieves, nor could we provide solid leads. Still, it seemed a shame nobody wanted to see our security video.

And we get it – our understaffed and overworked Police Department is trying to fight crime and stay COVID-safe. On the other hand, this is the same department that collects about $1.5 million a year from residents who pay permit fees in case their burglar alarms go off by accident. Just giving the impression APD is concerned would go a long way.

Meanwhile, it’s literally cold comfort the three of us are not alone – at 11:24 p.m. Feb. 15, a neighbor posted security video on Nextdoor of a thief trying the doors on the two vehicles in her driveway. She says she was still awake and called police. That night, the low temperature was 10 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night …

Also on Nextdoor, a neighbor posted this on Jan. 22: “Crime. I’m curious as to crimes families have experienced through the years. Here is my list of crimes in my family throughout Albuquerque and throughout the years we’ve lived here: My husband and I have had a car stolen out of our driveway, house burglarized – my daughter got out just in time – battery stolen from our RV and windows broken twice on our car. My nephew had his truck stolen then a trailer stolen. My niece had her Jeep stolen and another time a guy was in her car when she got in. She got out of the car, but she had important items stolen. My daughter had her house burglarized while she was sleeping. My brother had his car stolen twice, but got it back both times and also had mailboxes broken into. This is everyone in my family. What are your experiences?”

To date, 129 residents have posted comments, from offering prayers and saying they have not experienced any crime, to listing vehicles damaged or stolen, cars and homes broken into, even crashes after which the other driver pulled out a gun.

So the latest Zoom news conference earlier this month may have had the mayor and interim APD chief saying they plan to get proactive when it comes to local crime. But for us crime victims, it’s more than a day late and a dollar short.

Be safe, and double-check you’ve locked up your cars and homes tight.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or dwestphal@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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