ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Every month this year to date, there have been more homicides in Albuquerque than in the same months in 2020 or 2019, according to data from the Albuquerque Police Department. This trend means the city could be on the way to setting a new record for the most homicides in a single year in Albuquerque.
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In April, KRQE reported that homicides in Albuquerque were outpacing previous years by roughly 75%. Updated data shows that the rate of homicides per month has remained high into the summer of 2021.
As of July 29, APD has recorded 73 homicides in 2021. In the same timeframe in 2020, there were only 40 homicides. In 2019, by the end of July, there were only 46 homicides, according to data collected from APD.
“We as a community need to recognize that we do have a record-breaking year of homicides,” says APD Chief of Police Harold Medina. “Last year was not a slow year. Last year was the second-highest year we had in homicides.”
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Each month this year, there have been more homicides than in 2020 and 2019. Data from APD.
The department now publishes a weekly report every Monday detailing the date, address, and case number of all homicides in 2021. Click here to view the latest report as of July 26.
In 2020, there were 76 total homicides in Albuquerque according to data from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a group that represents police executives in large cities across the US. In a recent email, APD suggested there were 77 homicides in Albuquerque in 2020. Either way, it’s 2019 that holds the record for the year with the most homicides in Albuquerque.
In 2019, KRQE recorded 82 homicides based on APD’s reports. Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Journal counted 80 that year. The total number of homicides may vary slightly as APD occasionally reclassifies homicides into different crimes. Still, either number sets a precedent that could easily be attained in the next five months, even if the pace of homicides slows to 2020 levels.
The rise in homicides this year isn’t unique to Albuquerque, according to data from the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Out of 63 cities in the association, 44 cities saw an increase in homicides in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same time during 2020. But homicides may not tell the full story about crime in Albuquerque.
“The public — and especially with the media — tends to focus on homicides,” APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos told KRQE back in April. But, “for the most part, it’s still a very small percentage of overall crime in the city.”
Gallegos pointed out that there are many more cases of aggravated assault. The Major Cities Chiefs Association’s data shows cases of aggravated assault — which includes wounding, maiming, disfiguring someone, or endangering life — increased in the first quarter of 2021. From January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021, Albuquerque had 1,369 cases of aggravated assault, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association. That’s an increase of 80 cases compared to the first three months of 2020.
Aggravated assault counts also rose across the US in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, the Major Cities Chiefs Association’s data shows. Robbery and rape decreased both nationally and in Albuquerque over that time, according to the data.
It’s not clear why there are more homicides and aggravated assaults in Albuquerque this year. KRQE previously explored possible reasons such as drug use, poverty, and gang violence. Despite experts offering opinions, it’s hard for those outside police circles to identify a pattern, other than the fact that homicides tend to cluster in several Albuquerque areas such as the International District on Central Avenue, just east of the EXPO New Mexico fairgrounds.
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Interactive Slider: Over the last few years, homicides (orange markers) have been focused around downtown Albuquerque and Central Ave. Early in 2021 homicides were occurring further east, but now this year’s homicide locations appear to be following the usual patterns. Homicide data from APD; map data from UNM RGIS/US Census
To look for additional patterns, KRQE has been tracking the estimated “nexus” or cause of each homicide, hoping to get a sense of what may be behind the crimes. But given that APD generally releases few details about each homicide, it’s essentially impossible to pin down potential causes for many of this year’s homicides.
APD told KRQE that “the majority of our homicides have been related to drug activity and domestic violence.” However, KRQE’s map doesn’t show those trends. This is often due to a lack of available data about each individual case. APD’s news releases often contain very little, if any description about the events or narrative of each homicide. Those details are often described as “limited” or “under investigation” by the department, and rarely updated with a subsequent press release.
KRQE’s reporting reveals that quite a few of the homicides occur in motels and some occur in parks. APD Chief Harold Medina says those are often locations where drug-related activities occur.
“If you look at some of those common themes, they kind of all tie together,” Medina said. So, “late-night drug dealing in either a hotel or park is really driving our homicide rate.”
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So far this year, there has been an uptick in the number of homicides at motels and hotels. This list will be updated as new information becomes available.
Given that there do seem to be some common, if hard to see, themes among Albuquerque’s homicides, Medina says that residents can stay safe through their own personal choices: “A homicide is a homicide. It’s wrong no matter how you look at it. But a lot of our victims live a lifestyle. And if you don’t live that lifestyle, you’ve greatly reduced your chance of becoming a victim of a homicide,” he says.
“Homicides are not out of control in the city, and crime is not out of control in the city,” he adds. “Yes, we have high rates of crime, but we are moving and trending in the right direction.” Medina and others at APD point out that property crime rates are decreasing as the homicide rate climbs.
“Homicides and shootings always end up in the front of the media and the reports,” Medina says, but “a lot of times I’m in community meetings, and now I’ve started to ask this question: ‘How many of you been affected by violent crime?’ Very few hands go up, if any, in the audience. But when I ask, ‘How many of you’ve been affected by property crimes?’ Almost every hand goes up, and we are making great strides in reducing those property crimes that are affecting the everyday victims.”
Indeed, crimes against property decreased 19% from 2018 to 2020, a report from APD shows. In 2020, there were 5,213 car thefts in the city, compared to 6,896 in 2018. Robberies decreased from 1,997 in 2018 to 1,454 in 2020, the data shows.
“It’s unfortunate that all that hard work is sometimes overshadowed because the violent crime is going to take such a big place in the messaging to the community,” Medina says.
As for what’s being done to tackle homicides and other violent crime, KRQE previously reported that APD added a few detectives and have increased their presence in some of the city’s problem areas. Medina suggests it’ll take more than just the work of officers to help solve the city’s crime problem. He says the community at large also needs to be part of the solution.
“The Albuquerque Police Department alone is not going to solve the homicide problem,” he says. Rather, “helping individuals when they’re entering criminal activity through diversion programs, and getting people the help they need for substance abuse, and for mental health,” that’s where it takes a community, Medina says.
Medina points out that the city is working on systemic change through the Metro Crime Initiative. To learn more about the city’s system-wide efforts to reduce crime through the Metro Crime Initiative, visit the CABQ website.
Editor’s Note: Primary data reporting done by Curtis Segarra. Additional reporting by Stephanie Chavez, who interviewed APD Chief Harold Medina.