Albuquerque police officer Ric Ingram doesn’t think having an active neighborhood association will make crime rates go down, but he does think they can help. “Having a block captain is important,” Ingram said during a snow cone with a cop event on Wednesday. He said active and well-organized neighborhood associations and neighborhood watch groups can help APD catch criminals.
Ingram said it’s not the job of individuals or neighborhood watch groups to intervene when a crime is happening, but when a neighborhood has a block captain that can communicate to neighbors and to the police about criminal activity, then the police have a better chance of catching the offender. “We don’t want to see people get hurt trying to recover their property,” he said.
Many residents in the far Northeast Heights are concerned about thefts, break-ins and burglaries. A slew of comments across social media suggest criminals are being more brazen, stealing catalytic converters during the day and shoplifting from stores with customers watching. One West La Cueva resident posted on NextDoor, “Someone cut my catalytic converter last month in broad daylight. It’s becoming a serious problem.” Another comment reads, “Two of my neighbors had the converters stolen … Welcome to Albuquerque.”
Several officers at Wednesday’s snow cone with a cop event said crime does tend to be more concentrated in certain parts of the city, but that it is spreading throughout Albuquerque, including into the far Northeast Heights. The new acting commander for APD’s Northeast Area Command, Deanne Otzenberger, said people are also reporting crimes more often.
“I think there’s a lot of things that have just become more obvious,” Otzenberger said. “We have problems with encampments on our streets, that kind of thing. So, I think there’s actually a combination of things, whether or not there’s more crime, less officers, I think it’s a lot more reporting.”
When asked what the most prevalent type of crime being committed in the northeast part of Albuquerque is, Otzenberger replied, “It’s probably going to be a lot of our property crime-related stuff. Robberies, burglaries … And I think that’s why we’re here today, you know, is to make those connections with the businesses that are being affected by criminals willing to victimize them and seeing how we can kind of lock this area down so they’re not a target for crime and theft.”
Patrick, a northeast area resident who didn’t want his last name published, said he is fed up with crime in his neighborhood. “I am a resident who has lived in the Cherry Hills neighborhood for 20 years and am disgusted and exhausted about the crime issue in our area and in Albuquerque in general,” Patrick wrote in an email. “We live in a thug-riddled city and something has to be done about it.”
When asked about the type of crimes he has witnessed or heard about in Cherry Hills, Patrick responded, “The types of crimes in our area run the spectrum, or so it seems. Burglaries in homes and vehicles, catalytic converters being cut out of exhaust systems, aggressive door-to-door solicitors, packages being stolen from porches (porch pirates), aggressive drivers in the neighborhood and surrounding streets like Harper, Ventura, Academy. Aggressive panhandling at medians and the local Walmart on Academy is also on the rise …” Patrick goes on to list domestic violence, pets being stolen, and walkers and joggers being harassed around Albuquerque Academy. “It’s becoming uncomfortable to live in our once safe and pleasant community, and I mean not just for Cherry Hills, but Albuquerque as a whole,” Patrick said.
Patrick isn’t alone in witnessing a variety of crimes in the area. Paul Jessen, secretary for the Heritage East Association of Residents, said vandalism is an everyday occurrence. “Someone in the area has a problem with street signs, slow down Albuquerque signs, cable cone and boxes along Freedom Way, east and west of Ventura. Lew Wallace near the intersection of Freedom Way had a Comcast cable box removed and discarded near Heritage Hills Park,” he said. “Mailboxes along Freedom Way between Lew Wallace and General Kearny have been kicked over and have had to be replaced by the owner several times in the last year.”
Vandalism isn’t the only crime Jessen is concerned about either. On June 25, he posted a photo on NextDoor of several bullet casings found on the road while picking up trash. “Ten (10) spent .223 caliber shell casings found scattered between Walgreens & O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store on Ventura near Paseo. Did anyone hear gunshots from that area recently?”
Further south, near Madison Middle School and Sombra Del Monte Elementary School, another resident posted about an incident that happened on July 17. “Today around 5 p.m., Sunday the 17th, my 5 year old granddaughter was playing kickball in my front lawn – near Moon/Candelaria – with a family friend when he heard 12-14 gunshots zinging by. He didn’t stop to analyze, he grabbed my granddaughter and, shielding her, ran with her into the house. Shaken, he called 911 to report it, and was told they’d send someone, but no one came. Not even a police service aide. From now on, playtime is in my enclosed back yard. Hopefully cinderblock walls are enough to stop a bullet.”
When asked about police response times, Ingram said it depends on how busy officers are during the day. He said sometimes they get call after call and have to prioritize which ones they respond to first, while on slower days they can address the calls as they come in. When asked if APD was getting better at getting on scene in a timely manner, he said. “Improving? I think so.”
Otzenberger said she understands that residents are frustrated about crime in their neighborhoods. “One thing that I think is important for everybody to know is the officers are definitely just as frustrated with the crime and they do take it personally and they are personally invested as well, and professionally invested in solving the crimes. So, they are looking for the criminals that are committing the crimes. They are addressing problems when they’re aware of them and they are just as frustrated and like to solve the problems.”
Ingram said it is important to not only report crimes, but to save and photograph evidence when it can be done safely. He said it is easier to prosecute criminals when there are multiple witnesses who can come forward and that reporting can be done anonymously. He said current technology makes it much easier to provide digital evidence, including photographs and videos. He said residents with Ring cameras can submit their videos to the police and that APD will never take videos without the owner’s permission.
José Brionez, Southeast Area Command crime prevention specialist, agrees with Ingram. He said reporting crimes and having an active neighborhood watch helps APD catch criminals. He said it is also good for neighbors to exchange phone numbers and to have a group text they can use to communicate. Brionez, who used to live in Heritage Hills, said he has friends in the Heritage East neighborhood and that having an organized neighborhood association like theirs can deter criminal behavior.
“Of course, don’t put yourself in danger, but if you see somebody suspicious you can even come out and water your yard or whatever, just to keep an eye on them, right? That’s what they do because, a criminal doesn’t want to be made, of course,” Brionez said. “If you come out and make yourself present without confronting them, they’re going to say, ‘I don’t want a witness’ and they’re going to go somewhere else. That’s probably what Heritage East does. I used to live in Heritage Hills and they’re very organized in Heritage East.”
Brionez said a lot of times residents will wait to become active or form a neighborhood watch until after they become a victim or witness crimes themselves. “So instead of doing that, somebody could say, ‘Hey, you know let’s start a neighborhood watch’ and then they get organized from that.”
The city provides detailed instructions on how to form a neighborhood watch on its crime prevention safety webpage. The instructions can be found at cabq.gov/police/crime-prevention-safety/starting-a-neighborhood-watch. “I think neighborhood watch is good because that’s a way people communicate and they get organized and start working together,” Brionez said.