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Reacting to a recent spike in violence that pushed Albuquerque over 100 homicides for the year, Police Chief Harold Medina said that the department has already been trying several avenues to address the issue but that many of the initiatives take time.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters Monday afternoon, Medina said detectives are seeing high numbers of homicides related to parties, motels and road rage. He urged members of the public to take steps to protect themselves by not posting on social media if they’re having a party – so uninvited guests don’t show up and start fights – not honking at people who cut them off so as not to provoke a road rage incident, and not frequenting certain motels in the middle of the night to buy or sell drugs.
“We’re at one of those points where we have to be honest, and truthful in our assessment of situations,” Medina said. “We have to give the community the information that we know, so that they know, to make the best educated choices. I don’t want citizens in the city of Albuquerque to live in fear. I want them to live their lives and I want them to know what’s truly occurring, and what the trends are we’re seeing. So it’s not about blaming victims; it’s about educating the rest of the community.”
Medina also cited a twofold increase in detectives on the homicide unit – 13 currently, with three more available – as well as the detective academy he said will improve the quality of investigations and a digital intelligence unit to assist with working cases.
The Albuquerque Police Department has investigated 99 suspected homicides this year, while the New Mexico State Police has investigated three within the city limits. Outside city limits, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has investigated 11 homicides.
Detectives have determined nine homicides to be justifiable – done in self-defense – which APD will report in a separate category to the FBI for its annual report.
The clearance rate is 48%, which includes justifiable homicides and cases from previous years that were solved in 2021. According to Journal records, there has been an arrest or charges filed in 30 of APD’s cases.
APD says 81% of the homicides it’s investigating this year have been committed with a firearm.
“It’s peaks and valleys, there’s times that, you know, things are going in a really good direction for us you feel good,” Medina said. “And then there’s times that, you know, you’re waking up early to see if that alert is out there that we had a homicide from the previous night. … We’re going through one of those valleys right now, and hopefully we can get up on a peak and then we could look down and see that things are getting better. But right now … we’re in a canyon, and it’s really dark.”
In August, when Albuquerque surpassed its previous record number of homicides eight months into the year, police touted a plan to increase patrolling and partnership with motels that have high levels of violence.
Medina said Monday that the city has been working with the businesses – particularly Motel 6 on Avenida César Chávez and other locations – as recently as over the weekend to come up with a comprehensive plan to bring in new technology such as license plate readers to identify stolen vehicles.
The tools couldn’t come soon enough. On Monday morning, a man was shot and killed at the motel.
An APD spokesman said there were reports of yelling at the motel, then that a man had been shot and was lying face down.
“A dark colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Pathfinder fled the scene with an unknown and not identified offender in the vehicle,” Officer Chase Jewell wrote in an email. “Officers arrived, and the male was transported by ambulance to a local hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.”
Medina said the Motel 6 has to take “some ownership for their property and what’s going on there, and they need to safeguard the community and work with us,” but he also acknowledged that it takes time to get new technology up and running.
“It’s just unfortunate that there’s always a lag time between we start seeing results of who we’re working with somebody; it’s not like the next day they’re going to have the funding,” he said.
Deadly violence at parties is not new to Albuquerque, but Medina said that as the initial concerns about COVID-19 and the pandemic have started to wane, shootings are surging in those circumstances again. He said one of the recent cases – a party where four were injured in Northwest Albuquerque – occurred in his own neighborhood, and he called officers to check if they were responding after he heard the gunfire.
“We’ve seen some of the video of how, you know, literally we have a standoff at doorways and individuals pointing firearms at each other,” Medina said. “And that’s one of the biggest trends we’re seeing is just the sense of individuals going and they feel they have this entitlement to enter any home they want. It’s a lack of respect for all the other people in the community.”
Medina would not say if detectives believe that a recent spate of shootings at parties – leaving a total of three dead and nine injured in and outside city limits – are connected.
In response to violence at parties in the fall of 2019, city councilors allocated $280,000 for a “party intervention team” at APD to combat underage drinking, drug use and party violence.
Medina said the department had a hard time filling those overtime positions initially and then when the pandemic and associated public health lockdown orders came to the state in spring of 2020, parties pretty much stopped for a time. Now, he said, parties and associated violence are surging again but those involved are older, which means officers aren’t being called to stop underage drinking and instead have to rely on noise complaints.
He said the department has a group of officers finishing their on-the-job training in the next three months that he hopes can fill some of those positions.
“If this continues, then we’ll devote the resources to it at a sooner time,” Medina said. “We’ll just see how it pans out. I mean, many times we’ve seen this; we have a rash.”