ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - For decades, crime, drugs and violence have defined the chunk of Albuquerque informally known as "the war zone."
But residents of the neighborhoods were tired of the bad image.
So in 2009, Bernalillo County commissioners and the state of New Mexico legally changed the name of the five neighborhoods that make up the war zone to the "International District." However, in three years, while a few things have changed, much remains the same, according to Albuquerque police statistics.
"I think what we've done is actually held back the dam, so to speak," said Michael Geier, Albuquerque Police Department's commander in the city's southeast. "I think that some of the drugs that are very addictive, those people don't change their spots."
The war zone is a 10-mile section of the city, roughly from San Mateo to Eubank boulevards and between Gibson and Lomas boulevards. KRQE News 13 compared police statistics in two of those five neighborhoods, Trumbull and La Mesa, in 2008, before the name change, and last year. Here's what we found:
• Assaults were way down, from 1,009 in 2008 to 542 in 2011.
• Burglaries decreased slightly, from 433 in 2008 to 412 in 2011
• Homicides were up, from zero in 2008 to five in 2011.
• Sex crimes increased from 70 in 2008 to 89 in 2011.
• Drug crimes were up from 240 in 2008 to 270 to 2011.
• Disturbances rose significantly from 97 in 2008 to 275 in 2011.
Drive the streets of the war zone today, which also includes the neighborhoods of South San Pedro, Fair West and Elder Homestead, and it doesn't take long to see prostitutes and drug deals.
After just five minutes recently with an undercover APD narcotics officer, a News 13 reporter and photographer came upon a drunken street brawl between two partially-clad women, while a man tried to break them up. The officer said the man has been repeatedly busted for possessing and dealing crack cocaine, while the women were known prostitutes.
"This is the busiest area command in the city," the narcotics officer said. "Usually all the deals and the prostitution will go off on the side streets."
News 13 also spoke with a grandfather, who lives in the Trumbull Neighborhood and frequently cares for his grandchildren.
"You hear the bullets one after the other," he said.
One of the children, who was picking through rocks for bullets, said he was affected by the gunfire, too.
"We get scared when people shoot," he said. "We hear it and we hear a big boom."
APD's Geier said a concerted effort -- called Operation Hot Spot -- by dozens of federal and local officers that began in January used patterns to predict crimes and target enforcement. And while crimes went down, Geier said resources have ebbed, and the numbers are beginning to inch up again.
Nancy Bearce, La Mesa Neighborhood president, said changing the name to the International District has already changed people's attitudes and perception. She said she thinks criminal activity will eventually decrease as well, though that may take 15-to-20 years.
"Think long term," she said. "It's not going to happen next year or the year after that."
She pointed to the city taking over run-down buildings and shutting down seedy motels as evidence that the neighborhoods already have changed.
A recent APD survey found that 70 percent residents in those southeast neighborhoods reported feeling safe, though many remained concerned about gangs and drugs.
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