Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered dozens of state police officers to come to Albuquerque as part of a surge aimed at slowing violent crime after a baseball player for the University of New Mexico was killed in Nob Hill. Residents talked about the impact of their presence in a predominantly minority Southeastern neighborhood that they say has a history of being overpoliced.
The International District is next door to Nob Hill, across what seems to be the magic dividing line of San Mateo Boulevard, where incomes drop, diversity increases, and infrastructure suddenly declines. Some residents there say at first, the so-called operation metro surge happened right on their doorsteps.
Paula Arrietta sat on a bench at Mesa Verde Park in a suburban neighborhood that looks like any other in the city. Except lately, Arrietta and other neighbors had been seeing state police vehicles everywhere.
"To me, it’s not a surge. It’s a siege upon my community," she said. "They’re cruising around, four, five, boom, boom, right behind the other. They’ve got people who are walking just down the street they’re questioning. They’ve got drivers they’re questioning. They’ve got children they’re questioning."
Arrietta said state police stopped her middle-school-aged daughter one afternoon in mid-May for jaywalking—fingerprinted her, questioned her, and then put her in the car and drove her home. "She doesn’t need to be put in the system. For jaywalking? When do you take a child’s fingerprints, you don’t notify or even get ahold of the parent."
Her daughter hasn’t ever been in trouble for anything, Arrietta said. And when she was stopped, it was on one of her first solo ventures out into the neighborhood, an initial trip into independence. A little less than a week later, her daughter, she says, was approached again by another state police officer. "He was sitting there asking her if she would be pretty much an informant for drugs and whatever else have you in the neighborhood," she said. "There should be some kind of policy that you do not approach children and talk to them like that over those things."
Arrietta said she’s seen other kids being stopped by state police, too. She’s planning on filing a complaint, though she says she’s nervous to do it, because she’s worried her family could become a target.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference weeks ago to announce the surge and it was all over the news. Selinda Guerrero found herself on the phone with other community organizers in tears. She said she was fearful about what a rural police presence would mean for people of color in this densely populated area.
"They’re coming off a post that’s on the highway in Grants where they’re watching for people speeding on the highway, now dropped into a neighborhood, a community, who they do not know, who they’re unfamiliar with. It’s like a bomb waiting to explode."
After an initial push that was so visible in the International District, state police seemed to fan out and focus on other southside Albuquerque neighborhoods, too, residents said. Then, about a week ago, officials said half the surge force would go home—about 25 officers. The rest are expected to stay through early July.
State Police spokesperson Lt. Mark Soriano said law-abiding Albuquerque residents don’t have cause to worry. "The people that have concerns and that, they shouldn’t have any concerns," he said. "If you’re obeying the laws, they’re treated with the same respect as the people that we come in contact with that break the law."
State police officers are trained to interact with all people respectfully, Soriano said, and they are held to a high professional standard.
State police have also had a heavy presence next to another International District Park close to the apartment where Thomas Crum lives. He’s on parole, and it was all he could afford when he was leaving lockup. "I’m trying to keep my composure because you have to as a Black man," he said. "Not even just as a Black man, even just as a person right now in Albuquerque."
If he has any contact with police it’ll probably be reported to his parole officer—and Crum knows he hold his freedom in his hands. And state police patrols have been talking to people experiencing homelessness in the park right across the street from his home. He said it makes him really nervous about drawing any attention to himself. "I have Tourette’s, and it’s really active in the morning, and sometimes it’s active during the day, and I play it off," he said. "So I could say something or have an involuntary move and get shot."
Crum said he wishes he didn’t have to be in the district right now. He doesn’t feel too good about leaving the apartment and says the whole situation feels like a trap. "I feel like I’m in a cell," he said. "I feel like I’m locked up."
If the state wanted to help people here, Crum said, there’s definitely other ways they could have spent the money they’re spending on these extra police.