ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - While everyone knows about the crime problem in Albuquerque, solutions have been hard to come by. However, as one neighborhood demonstrates, one solution may be simple.
Living in Albuquerque definitely has its draws and drawbacks.
"There was an absolute decline in the neighborhood," Helen Petropoulos told KRQE News 13.
She grew up in Albuquerque, in a subdivision near Ridgecrest.
In the last six years or so, she and her neighbors have noticed a difference. "Buildings that were empty, the blight that had spread throughout some of the busier streets, and yeah the crime. The crime was palpable," said Petropoulos.
It's the same type of crime residents have seen across Albuquerque - home burglaries, package thefts, car break-ins, homeless taking up permanent residence in abandoned homes.
"It got us to sort of look around and go, 'do we wanna move or what's really going on?'" said Dave Hancock, who lives in the same neighborhood.
But rather than move, neighbors had a barbeque at a local park and just got to know each other.
"You know just being out and active like the old days," explained Sean Connor, another neighbor.
That sparked a plan; taking crime fighting into their own hands. Residents exchanged numbers and started a neighborhood watch.
Connor started walking with neighbors at night. "We walk when it's dark," he said. It's something not everyone is comfortable doing, but Connor says there's safety in numbers.
"We would get home and the kids would go down, so we would go for a walk," Connor explained.
And it has paid off, he says. When Connor spotted squatters living in an abandoned home, neighbors said the city didn't do much about it. Instead, neighbors did something about it, boarding up the back of the home and fixing up the front.
"Neighbors came together and were able to buy some wood and board up the windows and put a lock on the gate," Connor recalled.
Neighbors asked KRQE News 13 not to show the specific home on camera, saying they've worked hard to make it look occupied.
"I think I've seen it help quite a bit," said Connor.
"Our emphasis has just been on visibility and communication," Hancock added.
Recently, neighbors spotted a car cruising the block at night with no lights on, casing homes. "There was also someone on foot that had been communicating with the car," Petropoulos said. "That person happened to be in my side yard."
Her neighbors called 242-COPS and a patrol car showed up right away. "And the next thing I know my neighbor you know, comes over and checks on me to see if I'm OK."
Petropoulos doesn't know what could have happened that night, but she admits it's a scary thought.
One thing is for sure, this group feels better knowing they're looking out for each other.
"I'm grateful to my neighbors for their vigilance and their concern," said Petropoulos.
"So many people just don't connect with their neighborhoods anymore. We're trying to get back to that grassroots community policing," explained Albuquerque Police Officer Simon Drobik.
"Part of that community policing is neighborhoods coming together and knowing who lives in your neighborhood."
The watch group works with their Albuquerque Police Area Command Crime Prevention Team, something the department encourages all neighborhoods to do.
"We need the help, obviously we can't patrol all the time everywhere," Drobik explained. "Having citizens patrol their own neighborhoods, keeping their eyes and ears out, giving us a call if they see something, pays dividends in the long run."
Especially with an officer shortage, Hancock said stepping outside your home is step one.
"We all get numb to things that go on and we're into our day-to-day routine, and so you look around and all of a sudden, the park light's not working - well how long hasn't it worked? 'Cause you're not paying attention to what's going on," said Hancock.
He's retired, and says his neighborhood walks make him feel safer in his community. "It sort of empowers you I think is what it does because you're walking your neighborhood and your property, and the public property that's around you, and taking a little bit more responsibility and looking out for other people that way."
Neighbors want criminals to know they're watching too.
"We are, we're watching," said Petropoulos.
"The power of people is huge and that'll help a lot," Connor added. "That can help a lot more than people think."
While neighbors say they can't really measure what crimes they may be preventing, they believe their tactics of being visible and communicating with one another are making a difference.
To see which APD area command your neighborhood is in, click here. The public is also invited to submit concerns and ask questions during Community Policing Council meetings held each month. More information can be found here.