Last week, business leaders and community members gathered together to discuss the impact that crime and an unhoused population have on local businesses.
Will Martinez, Business First’s market president and publisher and Meagan Nichls, Business First’s editor-in chief, co-moderated the event, which marked the launch New Mexico Forward, a panel series.
We hope to be at the forefront of New Mexico's change. Martinez said to the audience before the panel that he was excited about the launch of New Mexico Forward. Conversations will lead people to make important decisions and these decisions will drive New Mexico forward.
The panelists included John Allen, Bernalillo county sheriff, Ernie C'deBaca president/CEO of Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, and Monica Jojola principal/president of Montech Inc.
This dialogue is a part of the panel discussion on April 27.
Clarity and conciseness were the main goals of editing.
Meagan Nichols, Hispano Chamber: Recently the Hispano Chamber launched a website that tracks crimes by legislative districts. What was the motivation behind this and what are you hoping to achieve?
Ernie C'deBaca : A number of personal things happened to our members. ... Many businesses have talked to us about [crime]. We decided to do something very simple. We thought that we would tackle the crime. We're going to take a dip in this pond of crime. We found out it was an ocean. There are many fish in the ocean. We've decided to get involved. We have to act. What do you choose? What are you doing? We then contracted Chris Schroeder of Real Time Solutions to create crimestatsnm.org. This software platform aimed to inform legislators of the crimes in their district. Albuquerque is not the only place where crime occurs. The crime is prevalent in many parts of New Mexico. We need to tell the legislature about this because, many times, you will hear in a legislative meeting that 'that is an Albuquerque issue'. We don't have to deal with it statewide. We wanted to inform the legislators about the crime, but also educate the citizens. If you log in, you can also send a message to legislators stating that you are supporting the passage of the [crime] bill. ... we will continue to be more and more involved, because it impacts our businesses. If it impacts our businesses, then it will impact our communities. And if our communities are affected, even tourism is affected.
Nichols: What real-life action do you hope to see from the [governor’s Business Advisory] Council [for Crime Reduction] in the future?
Monica Jojola (in Spanish): We tracked the bills that hit the floor this past year. Numbers are powerful. Is it enough to have three bills passed this year? We meet as a group every month. I can assure you that we all have different views and concerns. As a collective, we can influence our legislators and force our judges to uphold these laws.
Nichols, what role can business leaders play in reducing the crime rate in our state
You need to keep in mind that economic development is a huge issue. Businesses won't want to stay if we can't control crime. Businesses won't want to relocate. As a law-enforcement agency, we need to know what's going on. What is the problem? We have to be careful when people claim that crimes are decreasing. We know that the weather is going to warm up and we can expect crime to increase. We want to hear from you all about what's going on.
Will Martinez: What should business leaders do to develop a relationship with their local officers?
Allen: You asked how they could reach us. How about we come to you? We are provided with vehicles by the County, the City and State. Fuel is provided by the taxpayers, and it will be used to fuel your vehicles. If I receive a call from an owner of a small business, I will go to their business and ask what is going on. I also make the business more personal. I learn so much about property crimes from business owners. I never would have thought of it before. We know this is the gateway to violent crimes, but we also learn about other problems that business owners are facing. The business next to them or across the county are also dealing with this issue. Then we see the same criminals in our town.
Martinez: Our reputation as a place of crime and homelessness can make it difficult to attract good people. Have you experienced this in New Mexico? How have you responded to it?
C'deBaca, crime is everywhere. I have to say it. Albuquerque and New Mexico are not the only places that have this problem. Sadly, the temperature can be a bit higher here at times. Last year, we had an interesting discussion with the executive director at Sandia (National Laboratories). It was like a lightbulb came on when I said we were going to be really involved with crime this year. He said suddenly, "I want to get involved." He said that we get a lot funding and therefore have many jobs available. We have a lot of out-of-state applicants who are interested in the job. When we're ready to finalize a deal, a spouse searches for information. Albuquerque is a favorite of everyone. This is the problem. Albuquerque is a city we all love. We know it has its problems, but we love it nonetheless. We all want the best. It's difficult to get other people on board.
Nichols: Monica, recruitment/retention, how has crime impacted that for you all?
Jojola: Albuquerque is a very hard city to recruit in. I am hiring a software engineering. It's difficult to hire an engineer from Texas, Arizona or Colorado to work at DOE in Albuquerque. It's not attractive. It's impossible to convince anyone to move to Albuquerque by telling a compelling tale. It's a real challenge. You can be sure of that. You're a good company, with great benefits like medical care and health insurance. Albuquerque's crime is a major deterrent for people to move there. Yes, it is.
Martinez: What is the biggest roadblock to bringing our crime under control today?
Allen: Communication and collaboration are the most important things. You can see that we are all short-staffed between APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office as well as the District Attorney's Office. We have a lot of work to do but we will fail if we don’t work together. We are currently working on this.
Assuming responsibility. As community members, we have a responsibility to report. To work together. This is not a partisan matter. This is a problem for Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole.
C'deBaca : Just getting the correct crime statistics was difficult. We discovered that law enforcement agencies in the state don't really communicate well. If we find a better way to communicate and coordinate, I believe we can make progress.
Nichols: Sheriff Allen can you explain to me why it's so difficult to obtain crime statistics?
Allen: When I took office, I had the same problem with data. It was not available for my office. We're working to correct this. Ernie said that it's the communication between the law enforcement and the barriers. Communication is key. We all share pride, honor, and tradition within our agencies. But we must also remember that the reason we are here is to serve all communities. Transparency and sharing data are important.
Nichols: All these things, including advisory councils, crime stat websites, and other solutions that we could use are all great. When do you think we will see any progress? How can you bring all these things together to move the needle?
Allen: As we move into the warmer months, I am already seeing them. In the next 45-minutes, we will be meeting with the Albuquerque Police Department. It's been a long time since we've worked together to combat crime in one area. We are again working together. We discuss crime statistics going up or down. That's more a tool to me in deciding where we will allocate our resources. People are used to not seeing any progress in the past decade. They don't believe this until they actually see it. I could sit here all day and talk; people just want to see results, not numbers and statistics. They want to see results. Many of our deputies did not know anything about drug courts, or specialty courts. Our judges do not know what programs we run and what we want. Know that the communication is in place, and that these programs are being refined to what you need directly for a positive impact on your community. This takes time, and people are looking for results fast. I believe we have both a short-term and long-term objective to help us move forward.
Martinez: I'm sure there are many business leaders in the room. Do you have any final thoughts on public/private partnerships? What should they be doing?
Allen: Call Us. You can reach me through my business cards. Call me and let me know your problems. We're learning so much about criminal networks. We are doing many initiatives that other agencies do not make public. Find the collaboration. We're moving in the right directions, even though we are here this morning. It's a positive thing and I know there are a lot more negative things in our community.
Jojola: We started our company in Downtown. Our company has one of the highest security clearances from the Department of Defense and Department of Energy. When an FBI agent from the Department of Justice came to our building to conduct a self assessment, someone punctured the gas tank of his car. I had to relocate my business from Downtown Albuquerque. If I had thought about Downtown Albuquerque, the revitalization and the drive to attract more business downtown... I wouldn't have left. I should have given the city more time to improve.
C'deBaca : We will not be able policy ourselves out. Legislators need to make changes in more than just policy. There's a lot more to it. It's not just about homelessness, but also mental health and behavioral health. This has many root causes.