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A little perspective on Albuquerque violence

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few years as we try to figure out why there has been a spike in the number of police shootings in Albuquerque since Jan. 1, 2010. That number as of Thursday was 37, with 27 of them fatal.

During these years the Journal has published dozens of letters to the editor on the topic, and most fall into three camps.

One category would include those who blame Albuquerque Police Department leadership and training, the Mayor’s Office, rogue officers and even the militarization of police – long before that became a national issue.

Then there are those who blame the people who were shot, especially in cases where they were armed and refused to submit and lay down their weapons.

But this column isn’t about police shootings or how the city wound up negotiating from the weak side with the U.S. Department of Justice on a consent decree to deal with a pattern of abuse of power and civil rights violations by APD officers.

It’s about an issue raised by that third group of Journal letter writers – and somewhat by a man who wrote instead to the New York Times. This man decided to give up on Albuquerque, which The Times labeled the “Land of Violence.”

MAP MASTERThis third group often blames what they see as the local culture, or the meanness of our criminals or the large numbers of mentally ill and street people and to some extent overreaction by police.

More than one has suggested publishing a tally of killings by criminals in Albuquerque so people have an idea of what the police have to deal with.

That is not an ideal comparison because we pay and train police officers to protect the citizenry. Criminals have a different motive.

But we could look at the number of murders in cities comparable to Albuquerque over the same period, which I did.

Some of the cities I chose are the usual suspects, often appearing in stories about economic, health or education trends, for example. Their populations are within relative range of Albuquerque’s 555,400.

The largest in my group is El Paso, 672,538, and the smallest is Kansas City, Mo., 464,310. I didn’t know at the time of El Paso’s incredibly low homicide numbers, or Kansas City’s incredibly high numbers.

The other cities and populations are Fresno, 505,880; Tucson, 524,600; Las Vegas, Nev., 596,420; Oklahoma City, 599,100; and Denver, 634,200. I totaled the number of killings in these cities from 2010-2013, using data taken mainly from FBI reports. I also found some city newspaper year-end accounts or spoke to police departments to fill in for 2013.

And, say what you will about the so-called culture of violence here – and it’s understood that death rates don’t really offer bragging rights – but in this measure of the most violent of violent criminal acts, Albuquerque actually comes out at the lower end.

There were 147 homicides during this period in Albuquerque.

Kansas City had the worst numbers, made worse when you consider its small population. The city has long averaged more than 100 homicides a year, and the total there from 2010-2013 was 421.

And Las Vegas isn’t called Sin City for nothing. Records show 380 people were killed there during those four years.

Oklahoma City residents saw 259 killings, and the number in Fresno was 171.

Big Denver had 137 killings.

Surprisingly, Tucson, which many consider to most closely resemble Albuquerque, had 191 homicides.

And then there’s El Paso.

Though it had the largest population of all the cities I considered, its low, low homicide rate has been part of El Paso being declared by CQ Press as the safest city in the United States the last four years.

Even with a spike in 2012, the total number of homicides there during the period was 58.

Yes, 58. In four years.

In 2010, only five homicides were committed in El Paso. In 2011, 16. In 2012, 23. And in 2013, 11.

So if you’re looking for safety, head south. Just be careful about crossing over into neighboring Juárez.

Even with a significant drop in its homicide rate, this year Juárez is averaging about 10 killings a week. In 2010, about 60 people a week were killed there. Blame the cartels.

What do all these numbers mean? If you have the answer, try writing a letter to the editor.

But they could mean that Albuquerque compares favorably to many other cities of similar size.

That’s too bad. At least in this measure, we should all be like El Paso.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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