ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This Thanksgiving in Albuquerque had more domestic violence calls than the holiday has seen in a decade, according to the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Advocates who work with domestic violence victims say this could be part of a disturbing phenomenon.

Law enforcement says the holidays do tend to cause police calls to increase, but over the course of this holiday weekend, APD has had to respond to more than 200 domestic violence calls. “Typically, we averaged on Thanksgiving Day itself right in the mid-forties in domestic violence calls. And this past Thanksgiving, we’re somewhere in the mid-seventies on domestic violence calls on Thanksgiving itself,” says Chief Harold Medina.

In a tweet, Chief Medina wrote that officers responded to 207 domestic violence calls between Wednesday and Saturday morning. “Not only did we see that increase in calls for service for domestic violence, but we also did see, you know, we had a homicide that was domestic violence related, we have a non-fatal shooting that was domestic violence related. We had four SWAT activations that were domestic violence related. And we saw an almost doubling of the use of force that our officers are using,” Medina says.

Chief Medina says there was a 46% increase in calls from the same three-day period the week before, and more calls on Thanksgiving Day than they’d seen in a decade.

“Albuquerque is incredibly violent right now. I’ve heard statistics that we’re in the top ten for violence and I am incredibly worried for my community,” says Gail Starr, clinical coordinator for Albuquerque SANE, a treatment center for people who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.

Advocates who work with domestic violence victims say while the holidays tend to be a time of increased violence, there might be more at play this year. Starr says studies show domestic violence increases after a disaster. “They’ve shown after hurricanes; Australia has done a lot of studies after bushfires and stuff like that; Louisiana after Katrina; they showed a spike in domestic violence as well…I believe that COVID has definitely worked to make more stressors, definitely. This is one of the most stressful things I’ve seen in my life,” says Starr.

She says we may be seeing the after-effects: “Those stressors take a while, that it can show up 18 months after the start of a disaster.

However, she believes there are also a few other factors. “There’s a lot of reasons why I believe we’re getting more and more violent. The bail reform that happened years ago where people are not being kept in jail following a domestic violence assault,” Starr says.

Chief Medina says the increasing domestic violence calls do put a strain on the department and they’re looking at giving extra training to field officers to better respond since they do not have a dedicated domestic violence unit. “We did used to have a domestic violence unit and one of the things we’re trying to do is bring back a collateral program where that’s something that somebody does extra,” Medina says, “We’re going to train a bunch of officers to do this as a collateral duty and like I said, it’s been successful even with some of our care units. Those are the officers that help with child abuse cases. We give them extra pay, they continue to be field officers, but when the need arises, they’re able to respond to those calls and they have a little bit extra level of training, and they are supplemented a little bit more in pay.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with staffing and the amount of resources that are needed, and we just currently don’t have those resources. I’d love to have full-time units working on this topic, I think it’s very important to the community but until then, we have a model that works,” Medina says.

“We’re worried that this is strapping APD and their ability to respond. We know that call volumes going up make it harder and longer wait times for people to get help,” Starr says. “People don’t need to call police in order to get help. They should know that. That they can access our services, domestic violence resource centers, and there are a lot of agencies that try to get people to shelters and safe.”

Starr says they are calling on APD to create an investigative unit that will help them communicate and ensure patient safety. “I worry for the people who aren’t reaching out and getting help who are afraid to call police or the police weren’t able to get to them because their volumes were so high,” Starr says.

Chief Medina says domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous situations police can encounter because of how they can escalate. “A lot of times people are so emotionally charged that it’s very difficult for outsiders to come in, like a police officer, and try to diffuse the situation because emotions have been running so high,” Medina says. “We may get there for an argument that really is a bad relationship over the past two years that we’re trying to deal with so they’re very volatile situations.”

“It was one of the most dangerous situations we could encounter as law enforcement officers, so there are a variety of reasons why these incidents end up resulting either in [the] use of force, an arrest, or some kind of injury to a victim,” Medina says.

For more information and domestic violence resources in New Mexico, visit the Domestic Violence Resource Center’s website.