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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Albuquerque saw a string of homicides over the weekend, adding to an already deadly year for the city. According to the latest homicide figures released by the city as of August 2, Albuquerque had reported 72 homicides, just four short of the 76 reported for all of 2020. In those 72 homicides this year, 76 individuals were killed.

The relentless homicides in Albuquerque have the city on course to break the record of 80 homicides in a calendar year set in 2019. 

“We are currently at 72 homicide cases and 76 homicide victims. However, eight of those cases are likely to change categories to something other than a homicide once detectives get updates from OMI, toxicology results or complete their investigations. That could be anything from accidental death, drug overdose, natural death or justifiable homicide,” Albuquerque Police Dept. Director of Communications Gilbert Gallegos said.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grishman announced the deployment of 50 state police officers to assist APD. This is not the first time the governor has decided to send state police officers to Albuquerque. In 2019, the deadliest year on record for Albuquerque, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham also sent 50 state police officers to assist law enforcement in Albuquerque during the “Metro Surge Operation.” According to a press release from 2019, the governor stated, “Violent crime in Albuquerque is a scourge, and we will attack the roots of that scourge with targeted deployments of manpower and resources.”

But, according to the Albuquerque Journal, state police ran into conflict with reforms set in place by the Dept. of Justice. APD has been required to implement extensive reforms under DOJ oversight, which state police often failed to comply with. Within one week of arriving in Albuquerque, state police were involved in two officer-involved shootings. In fact, a member of the Police Oversight Board said, “This is the perfect atmosphere, the perfect storm for civil rights violations, and it completely undermines the serious energy people have invested in police reform in Albuquerque.”

At the time, State Police Chief Tim Johnson told the Albuquerque Journal the operation was thrown together in “just a few days.” He also admitted many of the officers had no urban policing experience, as many were from more rural areas of the state. “They’re having a blast,” he said. “It’s absolutely a change of pace from where some of these folks are coming from,” he said.

The Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico Peter Simonson responded to the surge of state police in Albuquerque in 2019 by saying, “For years the Albuquerque Police Dept. operated with impunity, shooting and killing someone practically every month. We don’t want to return to those days. We’re deeply concerned that the deployment of New Mexico State Police officers in our communities threatens to wreck progress towards constitutional policing in Albuquerque at a time when there is still much reform to be made.”

In addition, KOAT-TV reported that a large percentage of arrests made by state police were for misdemeanor crimes rather than targeting violent crime offenders.

The Paper. reached out to the Department of Public Safety for comment on the newest deployment strategy but did not hear back. APD also did not comment on the deployment of state police.

Violent crime has been a significant issue that has plagued the city in the last decade. An increase in crime, especially violent crime, has also been on the rise in other major cities across the U.S. For Albuquerque, the rise in homicides comes during the middle of a mayoral election where crime is the predominant issue between Mayor Tim Keller and mayoral candidate Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales.

Gonzales has positioned himself as a tough-on-crime candidate, and these latest homicide numbers have fueled the fire. Keller has promised to address the increase in crime by including law enforcement in solutions. Last year Keller ousted former Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier and instated Chief Harold Medina, who promised a more community-based approach to solving the city’s crime problem. Despite the changes in administration, violent crime numbers have only gone up. For their part, Medina and Keller have said it will take time for their proactive strategy to show major results.

APD says they also intend to add 100 new officers every year to bolster efforts to better manage and contain crime in the city.

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