ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Mayor Tim Keller blamed drugs, guns, gangs and domestic violence Friday for fueling a yearslong crime problem in Albuquerque, where the shooting death of a University of New Mexico athlete became the latest high-profile killing to shake the city.
Keller, District Attorney Raul Torrez and state officials outlined a coordinated push among agencies to crack down on crime in New Mexico’s largest city. Deputy Chief Robert Thornton of New Mexico State Police also said his agency would assign 50 officers to help boost law enforcement’s presence in the city.
“I know that we face frustration and anger,” Keller said about crime in the city. “We cannot give up.”
The announcement came as police searched for 23-year-old Darian Bashir, who was accused in an arrest warrant of shooting UNM baseball player Jackson Weller after the athlete got into a fight at a bar.
Weller was gunned down last Saturday in an area along Historic Route 66 that is near the UNM campus and popular among college students for its nightlife, breweries and restaurants.
Less than two weeks earlier, a postal worker was killed on his daily route in an Albuquerque neighborhood after police say he attempted to intervene in a fight between the 17-year-old shooting suspect and his mother.
Albuquerque has seen a nearly 75 percent increase in violent crime since 2013, when the rate began to climb. FBI figures show there were 800 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the city that year. In 2017, there were 1,376 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, according to the most recently available federal data.
Keller, who took office at the end of 2017, said his administration would begin to routinely dedicate Albuquerque police patrols to the area where Weller was killed when bars shut down on weekends. In the past, thin police staffing resulted in officers being called to respond to crimes and emergencies in other locations.
Albuquerque police added roughly 100 officers to the force in the past year, increasing from 853 officers to 957. About 530 of those officers patrol the streets and respond to 911 calls, spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
“The fact is we were just catching up to where we were five or six years ago,” said City Councilman Pat Davis, whose district includes the Nob Hill area where Weller was shot.
Just two days before Weller was shot, Davis and other city leaders announced $1.5 million in public safety and promotion funding for Central Avenue, which covers the stretch of Historic Route 66 that runs through Albuquerque.
Part of the money will pay for officers on bikes, which could help deter crime, Davis said. In 2018, Legislative Finance Committee analysts told lawmakers that police on the streets did more to deter crime than increasing penalties and sentences for criminals, saying the presence of officers increased the criminals’ perception that they could be caught.
“If you’re a bad guy, you probably did feel more comfortable riding around with a gun,” Davis said about the impact the officer shortage had on the city. “We are able to start thinking again about how to be proactive.”
Bashir, the man accused of fatally shooting Weller, has a recent lengthy court record.
Earlier this year, he was charged with shooting at or from a motor vehicle and aggravated assault. A judge granted his release from jail as he awaited trial, despite prosecutors’ request that he remain detained.
“It’s time for us to face up to the fact that preventative detention in this state simply is not working,” said Torrez, the district attorney.
His office has announced it is taking a data-driven approach to crime fighting, in part, by using data to prioritize prosecutions and identify the most serious offenders.
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