Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
2015 was a year of high-profile crimes in Albuquerque.
An Albuquerque police officer was shot in the middle of his shift, a 4-year-old was killed on the freeway in broad daylight and teenagers were involved in multiple shootings that shocked the city last summer.
But those are just a few killings on what became a longer list. Police investigated 46 murders in 2015, the most since 2009 and a sharp increase from last year.
Albuquerque’s murder rate has generally been declining since 1996, when the city had 70 murders, a trajectory that matches a national decrease in violent crime.
Murders in Albuquerque spiked again in 2009 with 56, and in 2014 decreased to 30, the smallest number in over two decades. In 2015, it jumped by 16, bringing the total to 46 – a 53 percent increase. That number doesn’t include some deaths that police consider suspicious but haven’t been officially classified as homicides. It also doesn’t include all homicides, such as fatal shootings by officers and self-defense killings.
Albuquerque Police Department spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said the 2015 number is average when compared with the past 10 years.
“We’d always like to see it lower; we always try to combat crime every day,” she said. “We’re doing much more with mental health crises and outreach in our community. But you can’t predict violent crime.”
Albuquerque’s violent crime rate increased by 14 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data.
Espinoza said she doesn’t believe low staffing levels, which have dogged the department in recent years, contributed to the increase in murders.
“You can’t patrol to prevent homicides; you’re not going to prevent them in that manner,” she said. “Violent crime is random and not something that we are able to prevent through proactive policing.”
Murders last year ranged from drug killings to domestic violence to drive-by shootings. The violence began early in the year, and Super Bowl weekend became a bloodbath when four people were killed in separate incidents.
Then there were multiple murders in the summer involving both teenage suspects and victims. Steven Gerecke, a homeowner in the Sandia foothills, was shot and killed in his driveway, allegedly by a band of teenagers who had been breaking into cars in the neighborhood.
Six teens are all awaiting trial on murder charges.
The same day that Gerecke was killed, a popular Manzano High School athlete was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was hanging out with friends inside a Northeast Albuquerque home. Police don’t believe the teen, 17-year-old Jaydon Chavez-Silver, was the target of the gunfire. Two teens and one young adult have been charged in that killing.
Another drive-by in July left a 14-year-old dead, and a 17-year-old was charged in his death.
But the most high-profile crimes of the year were still to come.
On Oct. 20, a road rage incident on Interstate 40 escalated into shots being fired at a vehicle, leaving a 4-year-old dead. The killing made national headlines and led to citywide mourning for Lilly Garcia, whose pictures still adorn local billboards.
The day after Lilly was killed, Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster was shot while trying to handcuff a man he had pulled over for allegedly driving a motorcycle with a stolen license plate.
Webster was critically wounded in the shooting, and he was taken off life support a week later.
He, too, was mourned citywide, and his death led Police Chief Gorden Eden and Mayor Richard Berry to call for stricter laws aimed at keeping repeat offenders off the streets. Webster was allegedly killed by Davon Lymon, a felon who had served time for manslaughter and had had other run-ins with the law.
Mayor Berry said in a statement that the murder rate increase last year is unacceptable. He noted that the 2015 number is still lower than the 56 homicides in 2009, the year before he took office.
He said he believes repeat offenders are part of the problem.
“Some of these may have been avoided if repeat violent offenders were not allowed back on our streets,” he said.
But a Journal review shows that fewer than a third of the people charged with murders committed last year had prior felony convictions in the state.
At least eight of 2015’s murders remain unsolved. Espinoza said the department’s clearance rate for last year is 85 percent, which she said is above the national average.
— Digital Editor Robert Browman and Journal Staff Writer Elise Kaplan contributed to this report.