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The typical message from Sonya Marquez to news outlets, social media and law enforcement agencies in the Albuquerque area doesn’t include a lot of pleasantries. She cuts right to the chase.
Crime Stoppers Bulletin 21-104. Please Print, Post and Share
“On Oct. 21, 2021, Albuquerque police responded to an armed robbery in the area of Louisiana Blvd NE and America’s Parkway. As the victims were walking through the parking lot, an unknown male approached demanding their belongings. He pulled up the front of his shirt and pulled out a Black Handgun. The male then “racked” the gun as the victims placed their belongings on the ground.”
Marquez in the bulletin then asks for the public’s help in solving yet another crime in Albuquerque — a pitch she has made more than 100 times this year: “Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (505) 843-STOP. Anonymous videos and/or photos can be submitted at p3tips.com/531.”
A civilian employee of the Albuquerque Police Department, Marquez began her law enforcement career as a dispatcher and later worked at the city’s Real Time Crime Center.
Now, as the person who runs the day-to-day operation at Albuquerque Metro Area Crime Stoppers, she spends her time talking to detectives, putting together bulletins asking for pubic help in solving crimes and sifting through hundreds of tips, getting them to the right people in law enforcement. She also oversees the reward program in which anonymous tipsters get cash for helping solve a crime.
Since its inception in 1976, the program here has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in reward money — all of it from private donors and fundraisers — and provided law enforcement with information that has led to thousands of arrests and case closures in the metro area.
While Marquez appreciates the information tipsters provide, she doesn’t know who they are. That’s because they are completely anonymous and get their reward money through an elaborate process she won’t discuss that protects their identity. In fact, anonymity is guaranteed by law, and only anonymous tipsters are eligible for rewards.
Birthplace of program
There are hundreds of Crime Stoppers programs nationally, but the movement that aims to make communities safer by partnering with law enforcement and the media to solicit and reward anonymous tips began here in Albuquerque.
More than 40 years ago, Greg MacAleese, a young APD detective and former journalist, was troubled by a gas station robbery and murder. He produced a video reenactment of the crime, promised anonymity and offered a reward. KOAT-TV aired the video. It produced results. MacAleese not only received calls that led to the arrest of the man responsible for the murder and other robberies, but he began getting calls regarding other crimes including one that helped solve a rape.
It was the beginning of Crime Stoppers as we know it. Marquez sits as a regional representative on the national board.
Albuquerque Metro Crime Stoppers is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization run by a volunteer board of local citizens, ranging from bankers to retired law enforcement. The board approves rewards and sets policy. Marquez is the liaison between law enforcement and the board.
29-year-old Deven Joseph Nieto has an active felony warrant for charges of armed robbery with a deadly weapon. … Nieto and another male accomplice, who remains unknown, is a suspect in several robberies. The duo is extremely aggressive as they enter the business wielding a pistol and an AK rifle while making employees lay on the ground. … Anyone with information on Nieto’s whereabouts … Call 505-843-STOP
The above is an excerpt from Bulletin 21-99. “We’ve put out 103 bulletins so far this year and we still have a month and a half to go,” Marquez said Nov. 10.
While the agency gets plenty of tips, Marquez says reward payouts have decreased. “I’d say 85% aren’t picked up. I’m not sure if tipsters reporting the information are skeptical it is truly anonymous.” (She says it is.) “They have a tip number where they can check back and arrange to get their reward after the board has approved it.
“The program was designed to pay tipsters. We work with some of our banks to get the money paid. We don’t disclose how to protect the integrity of the program.”
Albuquerque Metro Crime Stoppers, which also covers Bernalillo, Valencia and Sandoval counties, received 223 tips in October.
“They vary,” Marquez said. “We get a lot of drug tips. We get tips involving homicides and shootings. It’s a wide spectrum. I’ll go through them and determine whose jurisdiction it is, validate some of the information and forward it to the appropriate detectives or sergeant. Sometimes a detective will contact me and ask and I’ll forward information directly to them.”
Marquez says Crime Stoppers will make a public appeal only if asked to do so by law enforcement. “If we get a call from someone who says ‘my brother was a victim,’ I redirect them to law enforcement.”
“Most of our requests come from APD, but we also work with other agencies including animal welfare. Any local law enforcement agency that contacts me and asks for help, we will work with them.”
More than tips
Marquez’s work at Crime Stoppers goes beyond being a clearinghouse for tips.
Crime Stoppers also works with APD and the City Council on the city’s gun buyback event designed to help take firearms off the street. It holds an annual “heroes” luncheon to honor first responders or someone in the community who has gone above and beyond; the most recent honoree was APDs’ robbery team — nominated by the team’s sergeant in recognition of the caseload they had taken on.
And next month Crime Stoppers will have its 27th annual Cops for Kids event. “Every year we pair 100 to 120 kids with a police officer. The kids, who are nominated through schools or social workers, range in age from 6 to 11. Many are low income and some are homeless.”
“The officer in full uniform picks up the child and brings them back to a venue — this year it’s Top Golf — for breakfast and activities. Then there is a lights and sirens caravan to Walmart where we give each of them $100 to shop. It’s funded by donations and the officers always contribute extra. From there, we take them to lunch. It’s a great, all-day event and the officers volunteer their time.”
APD Chief Harold Medina, she said, is incredibly supportive of the program.
Marquez also is responsible for coordinating the Metro 15 list of wanted offenders “who are considered to be drivers of crime in Albuquerque.” An initiative of the administration of Mayor Tim Keller, the first list was published in November 2019 and is updated regularly. The city’s website says more than 73 offenders on the list had been arrested.
Marquez was born and raised in the Albuquerque area, graduating from Los Lunas High School and now living in Bosque Farms. She has two sons, ages 17 and 19, and spends time watching prep sports.
She took up golf a few years ago, but says she has a lot of work to do to get her handicap down into a respectable range.
She talks about the stress that was involved in police dispatch work, fielding calls and getting officers to the scene — which has been a challenge given APD’s thin ranks. While she is immersed every day in the sordid details of crime — from murder to rape to “armed shoplifting” at big-box stores — she’s cheerful and laughs easily.
While a center out of state handles most of the incoming calls, Marquez at times will “unforward” the lines and take the calls herself.
What’s the most frustrating part of her job?
“I guess it’s seeing the repeat offenders and the constant crime. I may see the same person come across my desk four times from different agencies and different detectives and they are just out there doing the same thing. It’s seeing the detectives work really hard on these cases and then the offender is back out there on the streets.”
And the most gratifying?
“It’s when we get those tips that help detectives solve cases or even those that just give them more leads. I talk to a lot of families just to give them more closure. It’s working with detectives and knowing we are doing some good out there in the community.
“The Jacque Vigil case was a big one,” she said, referring to the case in which Vigil was shot and killed as she sat in her car in the driveway of her West Side home early one morning while leaving to go to the gym. “I worked with the family a lot. We took a lot of donations to enable us to increase the reward we were offering. People just wanted to contribute, and hers got up to $7,500.”
Did Crime Stoppers get tips? “Yes, but I can’t discuss that.”
Court records in the case show anonymous tips in response to the appeal for information played an important role in identifying a suspect who has been arrested and charged.
Marquez said the board just approved raising the potential award for all homicides from $1,000 to $2,500 — as Albuquerque has shattered its previous record for homicides in a year, with more than 100.
It was the murder of Michael Carmen, a young college student who was shot to death — a 12-gauge shotgun blast to the abdomen at point-blank range — that prompted MacAleese to make a public appeal using a video reenactment in 1976.
Carmen was only two weeks away from getting married and had taken an extra shift to give a co-worker the night off. Gravely wounded, he tried to talk to police who responded but didn’t have the strength to form the words.
The outpouring of information from that first video led to a relatively quick arrest as an outraged community responded. It also vaulted MacAleese, now retired and living abroad, where he is a pastor, and his idea to national prominence.
While that first case was solved quickly — much like the recent video put out by Crime Stoppers showing a young man hanging out the window of a vehicle firing an assault-style weapon into the air in the Downtown area —Marquez points out that Crime Stoppers also continues to pursue tips even in cases that have gone cold.
The shooting death of Juan Carlos Romero is one of them. Family members say Romero, 26 and working on a master’s degree, was studying at the University of New Mexico library in February 2017. He left, grabbed a bite to eat and headed home to his apartment.
He never made it. Romero was shot to death across the street from the university. The St. Pius graduate had earned his undergraduate degree at UNM and was working on another.
“The murder of my son has left us completely devastated,” his father, Carlos Romero, said two years ago in a KOAT-TV interview. “My wife finds it difficult every day to find hope.”
But Marquez says that Crime Stoppers hasn’t given up hope and that she believes someone out there likely knows what happened that night. She said the potential reward in the case recently was increased to $13,160.
So, Marquez says, if you have any information about what happened that night near Central and Stanford — or any other crime — please call 505-843-STOP or submit your tip via the Crime Stoppers website or the Crime Stoppers app.
You WILL remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for the significant cash reward. And in the case of Juan Carlos Romero, you could take a killer off the street and bring closure to his family.
And that, Marquez says, is what Crime Stoppers and her work there is all about.