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ABQ still lags peers in economy, public safety

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque continues to shine when it comes to parks and air quality but still compares poorly with other southwestern U.S. cities in crime and economic vitality measures, according to a new analysis.

The city’s latest biennial Progress Report – like the one before it – found Albuquerque has the worst property and violent crime rates among six peer cities and is also at the bottom of the cohort for unemployment and job growth.

But the citizen committee that compiled the scorecard ultimately deemed Albuquerque “on track” to meeting its goals in 31 of 59 livability indicators. Those include several public infrastructure, sustainability, environmental protection and governmental performance metrics.

In a letter included with the report, Mayor Tim Keller noted the city’s efforts to hire more police and attract jobs. He also highlighted the city’s response to COVID-19.

“Even as the public health crisis rocked the globe, we united to build a safer, healthier and more equitable Albuquerque,” he wrote. “As many cities closed services their residents depend on, we knew we had to carve our own path.”

Most of the data used in the new 2020 scorecard predates the pandemic because if comes from 2019. The new report does, however, have a section reiterating some of the most positive results from the city’s previously released 2020 citizen satisfaction survey.

Asked about the city’s continued poor economic and public safety performance relative to its peers, a Keller spokesman cited that citizen survey, including the 59% of residents who said the city’s quality of life is good or excellent.

But spokesman Matt Ross said the scorecard still reflects long-standing challenges.

“We are making big strides, but some of the comparative rankings are a reflection of how deep those holes were when we started climbing out,” Ross said in a written statement.

Keller has been mayor since late 2017, and the new progress report is the first using only data since he took office.

The full progress report is available as a supplement in The Sunday Journal.

The report is a product of the city’s Indicators Progress Commission, an appointed citizen group assigned to report how close Albuquerque is to meeting its long-term goals. It measures Albuquerque against five peer cities – Colorado Springs, El Paso, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City and Tucson – and national averages.

It also categorizes Albuquerque’s progress in each measurement as “on track,” “improving” or “needs improvement.” Only “on track” means it is doing well relative to other places.

The commission deemed Albuquerque on track in most public infrastructure indicators, including the rate of public transportation ridership, walkability and residential energy consumption.

The city also scored well in community sustainability measures, ranking first in the peer group in park acreage as a percentage of total city land (23%), the percentage of residents who live within 10 minutes of a park (87%) and housing units per square mile (1,320).

The city also has the fewest “unhealthy” air days among peer cities and rates second-best in water usage per capita.

But the comparisons are far less flattering in the public safety and economic vitality areas.

The commission rated the city on track on just three of 11 economic indicators, although it said the city was improving in several others, including government employment as a percentage of total employment. It is 20.6% in Albuquerque, compared with 15% nationally, but it’s slightly less than the 21% from Albuquerque’s 2018 progress report.

However, the city remains last among peer cities in annual job growth, unemployment and – based on statewide data – income inequality.

“The prosperity of a community is tied directly to the success of its economy,” the report says.

Keller’s letter did not directly address the city’s last-place rankings. It did note recent developments on the jobs front, including Netflix’s expansion and plans by the aerospace company Orion to build a campus near the Albuquerque International Sunport.

While the city demonstrated progress on many economic indicators, it fared poorly overall on public safety metrics. Six of nine indicators are either stagnant or worsening.

That includes trust in public safety agencies, as only 48% of citizens surveyed said the Albuquerque Police Department is respectful to citizens. While the scorecard rated APD well for its response time to top-priority calls, (10 minutes, 33 seconds, compared with 12 minutes, 27 seconds in the last report) it said the city needs to improve its emergency medical services life support response time (7 minutes, 54 seconds).

The new report shows Albuquerque has not budged in its crime rankings, remaining the worst among peer cities.

Much of the public safety data the report cited came from 2019, when Albuquerque recorded more homicides than any year in recent history.

More recent numbers indicate that homicides fell slightly in 2020 but that overall, violent crime increased, due in part to more aggravated assaults.

The city has, however, continued a downward trend in property crime, which fell 10% each of the past two years, according to APD data.

An APD spokesman said the city is rebounding from many years of underfunding police and public safety.

Since 2018, spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said, “Hundreds of additional officers were hired and property crime has fallen dramatically.” The city is also rebuilding its specialized police units and working on new initiatives to battle violent crime, he said.

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