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Responding to pleas from a citizens council, Albuquerque police is launching a special 60-day enforcement operation in a chronically high crime area near Central and Tramway as part of a multipronged effort that will include bike patrols, traffic units and criminal investigative teams.
The effort includes a crime prevention specialist who is enlisting the help of businesses and owners and managers of motels in the area to make their properties safer.
And just this week, a mobile APD substation has been set up at the Four Hills shopping center and the Smith’s grocery across the street has acquired a $40,000 surveillance system to root out and prevent criminal activity.
The unveiling of the APD operation came Monday during the monthly meeting of the APD’s Foothills Community Policing Council, a group of 11 volunteers from the area who in June issued a slate of recommendations on how to curb crime in the area of far East Central Avenue.
“This is basically kind of a micro-targeting of the area, if you will,” said Foothills APD Commander James Collins during the meeting. “So I’m looking for hopefully a significant reduction over the next 60 days to try to make this area really beneficial for people who live in Singing Arrow, Four Hills and the surrounding areas. Make the motels a place that people really want to go to.”
APD originally had planned the enforcement operation to roll out in Southwest Albuquerque, but Josh Brown, deputy chief for field services told the policing council Monday evening, “We moved it from the Southwest into the Foothills for the next 60 days based on some of the recommendations that you guys have put out.”
Robert Carleton, chairman of the council, thanked police officials who attended the council’s meeting Monday, and credited a July 24 story in the Journal and a subsequent Journal editorial for helping raise awareness of the crime problems.
The policing council, created as part of APD’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice in 2014, has decried the escalating crime, including two homicides in recent months, and public safety threat plaguing the concentrated area of motels near Central and Tramway.
Some council and area residents have reported vandalism, trash, gangs, thefts, aggressive panhandling, mental illness, open drug use and seeing people loitering while carrying weapons, including swords.
Some of the council recommendations for curbing crime initially spurred criticism from some city officials and APD’s public information officer who questioned whether the council was operating outside its scope as dictated by the DOJ agreement and the reform process.
But on Monday, other police officials were conciliatory and said they were open to council suggestions.
In describing the new crime fighting initiative, Collins told the council, “We’re going to have a lot of increased proactivity up in that area.” Investigative units and bike patrols will be dispatched there.
“And a word of warning, the traffic unit will be in and out so please everybody watch your speeds in that area because they’re are going to do their thing,” Collins said. The operation will last until Sept. 29.
“I’m looking forward to this plan,” he said. “The officers seem to be really on board with getting all of this done. They’re enjoying it.”
Meanwhile, he said, an APD crime prevention specialist is also working with some of the motels and hotels in the area.
“Because it’s one thing to have a lot of proactive effort which is really good while they’re there,” Collins said, “but we are looking to try to create more long term solutions and we think that we are able to do that if we can get with owners and managers (of motels and hotels) to try to partner with us … and help make their properties a little bit safer.”
Online reviews of some of the motels along far East Central described them as “scary,” with one person advising travelers to stop for the night only if they are “asleep at the wheel.”
Collins said on Monday he widened the boundaries of the 60-day police operation beyond the Four Hills shopping center and motels at the far end of Central and Tramway.
“I actually selected an area a little bit farther to the west and to the south,” Collins said. “Because in my experience, when we do this kind of micro-targeting we will displace things and I don’t want to forget about the residential areas.
“The officers have been briefed to keep an eye on residential areas, because we know as we move some of the problems out they may end up in some of the residential areas.”
The Foothills policing council is one of six independent citizen groups set up through the DOJ settlement agreement to issue recommendations on police matters.
In its recommendations, the council urged the city to improve its oversight of a program offering motel vouchers to people who need temporary housing. The council alleged some of those on the voucher programs in the East Central Avenue area were overstaying their voucher time limit and contributing to the crime problem.
Collins, said APD is looking into the issue of the motel vouchers, noting however that police have no authority over the program, which is overseen by the city’s Family & Community Services. That agency said it was inaccurate and unfair to blame a program that helps homeless people for the crime problems in the area.
Meanwhile, in an effort to attract visitors and reverse negative public perception of the old Route 66 corridor, the city is spending $500,000 to promote the 14-mile stretch of Central Avenue between Tramway and Unser boulevards.