Friday, November 20, 2015
This column also ran in the ABQ Free Press
It's sad but true. It will be years before there is any noticeable progress in the struggle against violent crime in ABQ as well as the effort to reform APD.
The Wall Street Journal, one of numerous national publications to take note of the city's severe crime plight, reports that violent crime in ABQ reached a five year high in 2014, rising 14% in 2014 alone.
No less an authority than Shaun Willoughby, the VP for the police union, said in a recent interview: "If you think the numbers are bad now, wait until you see the 2015 reports."
The murders of 4 year old Lilly Garcia and APD Officer Daniel Webster was more evidence that things here are getting worse.
But given this urgent backdrop, why is there no change? We put that question to our readers and law enforcement experts. We received answers that may surprise.
First and perhaps foremost, in all the coverage of the crime outbreak the city's lousy economy is rarely cited. But the escalation of violent crime has coincided with the city's descent to the bottom of the national barrel in employment and business growth. The two are intrinsically linked. Improve the economy and you improve the crime outlook. By every conceivable measurement this is the weakest city economy in modern history.
Coverage of the economy is cheerleader driven, highlighting any glimmer of good news and ignoring the deep changes the economy has wrought on the social structure of the state's largest city. Experts agree that long-term the city is going to have address its economic woes, if it is to reduce crime.
Then there is the understaffing of APD. That is pinpointed as the chief cause for the violent crime outbreak by the aforementioned Willoughby. He argues convincingly that the chronic shortage of police officers on the street and the historically slow response times to priority calls has not gone unnoticed by the bad guys. Sure, the police department has been understaffed before Mayor Berry took office in December 2009, but it has worsened under his watch. Crime soared and he lost command and control of APD, forcing the Justice Department to come to town. An understaffed APD in these times is much more nefarious than days of yore.
Those are the big two. The Mayor and City Council might not be able to do much about the economy in the short-term but if they treated the police understaffing as an emergency they could attract officers from around the nation and also fill APD cadet classes by providing aggressive financial incentives. They must spend the money, but they won't. APD Chief Gorden Eden actually says that APD understaffing will get worse before it gets better and that a solution is years away. Incredible,
With that attitude there is certainly no challenge predicting that the failed approaches to the violent crime fight will continue until Berry is out of office December 1, 2017. Then the city must hope it gets new leadership that is ready to saddle up and lead.
Apologists for Berry argue--and with the backing of the public--that it is the judges and prosecutors who are at fault. In fact, the Mayor has shifted the entire blame for the crime debacle to the state Legislature, recently calling for various state laws to solve his problems. But all the laws in the world are not going to save him from presiding over a city in a crime crisis unless he adequately staffs APD, reforms its flawed command structure and starts dealing with this tepid economy.
Even if Berry chose to act, which he won't, he could not do it alone. The silent City Council, the acquiescent business community and the Berry-boosting media continue to disappoint as they aid and abet the non action that has become the collective response to the city's crime bedeviled streets. Like we said, it will be years before it change
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author