- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Recent fatal shootings by police officers might be hurting Albuquerque’s image and could affect the city’s economy, according to business leaders and elected officials.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday some potential new and repeat visitors are voicing reservations because of the shootings, and chamber President Terri Cole said she’s trying to assure them that Albuquerque is safe, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/P5O9yV ).

“The comments that we’ve received have run the gamut from people who had visited Albuquerque with the Balloon Fiesta and won’t come back to the event to people considering Albuquerque to retire in and have changed their mind about that decision,” Cole said.

The fears come after Albuquerque police were involved in two high-profile shootings in 10 days, which sparked a large protest downtown and renewed calls for reforms with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Earlier this month, Albuquerque police fatally shot a homeless camper in the Sandia foothills following a long standoff and after authorities say he threatened to kill officers. Authorities said James Boyd, 38, died after officers fired stun guns, bean bags and six live rounds.

But a helmet-camera video showed Boyd, who claimed to be a federal agent, gathering his belongings then turning away right before officers fired.

Then, hours after a protest over that shooting, Albuquerque police shot and killed a 30-year-old man at a public housing complex. Authorities said he opened fire on officers.

Albuquerque police also are under an ongoing U.S. Justice Department over excessive force cases and 37 shootings since 2010.

Brad Winter, the senior member of the City Council, said he’s “absolutely” concerned about the city’s reputation, especially after the video of the Boyd shooting.

“It went viral,” Winter said. “Public safety absolutely is a big concern. What are we going to do to fix this?”

Councilor Rey Garduno, who represents the Southeast Heights, said he hopes people won’t lose hope and fail to do what’s needed to improve the police department.

“I think it does hurt an area, a region when it’s spoken of in derisive terms,” Garduno said. “. My hope is we can get rid of these cowboys or whoever’s causing these problems.”

The backlash certainly has the attention of local business leaders.

“We have fielded a few calls and emails into our office from potential visitors,” said Tania Armenta of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has a contract to market the city. “We are concerned, as the city’s image is critical to the work we do to improve the economic vitality of the area.”

The controversy coincides with Tesla Motors’ announcement this year that it’s considering New Mexico, among other places, for the construction of a massive battery plant.

Cole said that how Albuquerque responds to the shootings may be a factor.

“I think Tesla will understand that almost every city in America is trying to figure out how to address these kinds of situations,” Cole said. “What we do from this point forward is going to matter more to Tesla than what happened, provided the proper leadership (actions) are taken thoroughly and quickly.”

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