Are federal laws for downtown gun crimes working?

Are federal laws for downtown gun crimes working?

It's business as usual downtown outside the strip club where a man died a night before. The no gun signs did not deter the gun violence.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Earlier this year, the city announced a new plan to use federal laws to more severely punish gun crimes in downtown Albuquerque.

Now that a 16 year old is accused of shooting and killing a man in a downtown strip club, KOB 4 is examining if the city’s attempt to work with the feds is yielding any results.

“The problem is with state law is it’s very weak in a lot of areas. One of those areas that they’re weak is the fact that negligent use of firearm is just a misdemeanor,” said APD Chief Harold Medina back in May. 

It’s business as usual downtown outside the strip club where a man died a night before. The “No gun” signs did not deter the gun violence.

“This summer, we are cracking down on guns. We are going to triangulate existing restrictions around schools to aggressively target any crime with a gun anywhere in downtown Albuquerque,” said Mayor Tim Keller in May. 

It was an innovative idea – the city using the downtown schools to create a gun-free zone, promising federal charges for firearm violations.

“I don’t think we’ve been referred any cases using that specific charge,” said U.S. Attorney Alex Ubaellez in November. 

More than half a year later, it hasn’t worked out that way – zero cases. 

 “Which is not to mean that we haven’t looked at folks downtown. What it means is that we haven’t had to rely on that statue because we had other ones,” said Ubaellez.

But is downtown any better off?

“I live downtown, I spend a lot of time on Central and, you know, it feels like it’s coming back alive,” Ubaellez said. 

“Usually you come out at nighttime, you’re going to see a fight or two at least. If not worse,” said Johnny Sturgis, a downtown Albuquerque worker. 

So, which is it?

Peter Rice is the editor of Downtown Albuquerque News and he closely follows the data. 

He says there have been four homicides this year, compared to five in 2022, and five in 2021. And no more than two killings in each of the years going back to 2018.

But there are reasons for encouragement.

“It’s much easier to make a case that the greater downtown area has gotten safer over the years,” said Rice. 

He says lower level crimes across downtown are trending down, and 2023 is tracking better than most years – with the exception of 2020. 

It likely has less to do with the signs and the consequences they claim.

“The city is definitely doing a lot of stuff. They got cameras all over the place. They have license plate readers all over the place,” said Rice. “So they’re doing a lot of extra stuff. It’s always pretty treacherous to attribute cause and effect.”

The interview with Ubaellez was last month. KOB 4 reached out Wednesday, asking if there had been any new cases in the last month, using those school zones as ways to federally charge gun crimes. They didn’t get back to us before our deadline.

However, APD did get back to us saying there have been three gun cases they forwarded to the feds.