Casino pays police overtime after crime concerns

On Special Assignment

Neighbors worry a crime-ridden casino is taking officers off the streets and keeping them busy responding to calls at the profitable, private business instead.

On Special Assignment, KRQE reveals how much time police are spending at the Albuquerque Downs Racetrack & Casino, and how they hope to curb the crime.

The casino at Central and Louisiana is on state property at Expo New Mexico, so the New Mexico State Police Department shows up when something goes wrong.

That’s what happened in June, for instance, when police say Daniel Zefferi was trespassing.

“What kind of weapons do you have, sir?” an officer asked Zefferi.

“He took my staff,” Zefferi responded. 

“Okay. What else do you have?” the officer asked.

“I have this gun that’s concealed,” Zefferi replied.

State Police dash camera video shows Zefferi was dressed up like a king and had chained himself to the fence, which lines the perimeter of the Downs property.

Police used a bolt cutter to remove the chains. 

“Of course you’re gonna do this to King Daniel,” Zefferi said.

Police have dealt with Zefferi at the Downs before. Just a week earlier, they were called to the casino when he, again, was accused of trespassing.

Security at the casino said Zefferi even called and threatened to shoot up the place.

“He said that he was gonna destroy the building and kill everybody inside and that Jesus told him that we’re unrighteous and unholy,” a security guard explained to a police officer.

That is just one example of the 31 calls for service State Police handled at the Downs in June, according to the Department of Public Safety records.

It was even worse in the months before that with 32 calls in May and 35 in April. That’s an average of about one call a day. On the busiest days, police actually got up to five calls. 

Joanne Landry, president of the Trumbull Village Neighborhood Association, said the community is concerned about the “overwhelming amount of calls.”

“We don’t need any more problems here and pulling our State Police officers off the streets when they need to be there, that’s a big issue also,” Landry said.

KRQE asked State Police Chief Pete Kassetas about it.

“It really became a problem for us as far as managing our manpower and, really in all fairness to the taxpayers, we’d rather be out there serving the public than having to continue to respond to this entity,” Chief Kassetas said.

He said when his officers would normally be enforcing traffic laws, trying to stop drunk drivers on a Friday or Saturday night, they were spending that time at the privately-owned Downs instead.

“If I had, say four or five officers that were assigned to this particular area, usually two or a sergeant and two would be called in on any given night to deal with some of those issues at the Downs,” the Chief said.

Those issues include stolen cars, stolen money, fights and people refusing to leave after they have been banned from the casino.

A lot of it is caught on surveillance cameras.

That was the case with a theft in March. Surveillance video shows a man getting money from the machine in the casino when he realized he left his wallet somewhere else.

He went to track down the wallet so it would not get stolen and, instead, someone stole his $250 from the machine.

KRQE called the Downs Racetrack & Casino several times and left messages with multiple people. It is owned by Albuquerque Businessman Paul Blanchard and his Louisiana-based partners.

Despite the casino’s use of state-owned land and State Police, no one from the Downs bothered to call back to even discuss addressing the public’s crime concerns.

However, State Police said it has now worked out a deal with the Downs.

Over the last few months, State Police said the Downs has paid officers overtime to patrol the premises on Friday and Saturday nights.

“They pay the bill — not the taxpayer — but it allows dedicated officers to deal with issues and hopefully their presence persuades people not to break the law, and I don’t have to bring in the regular shift officers off the road,” Chief Kassetas said.

The number of calls for service in the first couple months since the new plan went into place hasn’t gone down.

In fact, they’re actually up at 36 calls in July and 38 in August, according to State Police data.

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