ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The welcome mat is not so welcome at one gateway hub in Albuquerque.
The Alvarado Transportation Center, just south of First and Central, bustles with people riding the Greyhound bus, the Rail Runner and Amtrak trains. For years when tourists stepped onto the streets, they saw more than the cityscape, the peaks of the Sandia Mountains or the true blue New Mexico sky. They also saw the suspected drug dealing, drug using and loitering right out front of the ATC.
Fred Williams has seen it all from his home at the Silver Gardens Apartments across the street.
“They mess everything up, they don’t clean up after themselves,” he said.
Since February, KRQE News 13 has been recording undercover video and saw the problems first hand. One man counts a wad of cash and makes a hand-off to another. Often the group that hangs out on the stucco benches out front passes around something to smoke that is probably not tobacco. Multiple times KRQE News 13 witnessed suspected drug use and drug deals. Vehicles were seen pulling up to the group and suspected deals were made.
“I think it’s a bad image on New Mexico to be honest,” said Blake McPherson, who saw the problem after stepping out of the ATC.
The welcome mat for visitors included booze bottles, trash and syringe caps.
Residents say the city needs to do more to quell the problem.
“Definitely, definitely,” Williams said.
At times, this activity was happening just steps from security guards. They slowly saunter down the street toward the large group which disperses, but within 30 minutes they come back.
“They’re not worried because they can see if the cops are coming or not. And when the cops do decide to come, they come from one direction, not all directions,” Williams said.
KRQE News 13 showed the undercover video to Albuquerque Police Lt. Arturo Sanchez, who oversees this area working in APD’s Valley Area Command.
“Some of that activity is somewhat consistent with narcotics,” he said.
Sanchez says officers have written citations in the past and admits it wasn’t very effective.
“Those things we tried didn’t work,” he said.
Now the understaffed police department is trying a new approach. Sanchez says officers are now working more closely with the neighbors in the area. Police want the neighbors to help be their eyes and ears as officers promise to step up enforcement.
For a couple of days last week, police set up mobile surveillance cameras. This summer, police hope to be positioned in an office at the bus station, watching a live feed from security cameras.
“It is going to allow the officers when they do have those monitors to have a better view without being seen,” Sanchez said.
Just a few hours after KRQE New 13 interviewed Sanchez, a department spokesman said APD conducted a tact plan at the ATC. Detectives arrested two people accused of having crack cocaine.
As for the negative image for the city, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry says it’s common to see more problems pop up when residents move into downtown areas. They’re more likely to spot the problems and speak up.
“When it’s two against one, the community and public safety against crime, that’s when we make big changes and that’s what we’re starting to see downtown,” Berry said.
KRQE News 13 asked Berry whether the downtown crime speaks to the bigger issue of homeless, mental health and addiction.
“We’re actually leading the nation, and we have other cities across America coming to us to ask us how we’re working with the homeless in our community,” he said.
KRQE News 13 asked Berry’s staff to provide evidence of the mayor’s claim that Albuquerque is a national leader in supporting people living with addiction, mental health issues and homelessness. The city provided its own news releases announcing programs for people struggling with those issues.
Police say they’ll concentrate on this area but admit they can’t watch the area 24/7 and won’t catch everything.
“It’s not something that’s going to fix it tomorrow or a week from now. It is a long term plan,” Sanchez said.