APD's Josh Brown on the sudden popularity of drag racing, Sunday cruise night hours, mask use among homeless people, and more

Part one of a two-part Q & A series
EDITOR'S NOTE: No less than eleven of you responded to our recent call for questions to Josh Brown, the head of APD's Valley Area Command. In this two-part series, we'll tackle those, other law enforcement queries we've received from readers over the last several months, and still other topics we've heard crop up at neighborhood association and other meetings. Many thanks to Alert Readers Martha, Joe, Elaine, Sandra, Catherine, Rudy, Dennis, Matt, Elise, and Susan for sending in questions.
Readers have recently reported excessive speeding and/or drag racing on several greater Downtown thoroughfares, including Central, Mountain, Tingley, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, Bellamah, Kinley, and Rio Grande. Besides being very noisy, one reader says the practice is "unbelievably hazardous ... I never thought I would say such a thing but it makes me yearn for red light cameras." Another reader reported that "I recently attended a funeral of a young woman killed by a car drag racing down Unser/Tower." What can the police do about this loud and dangerous state of affairs?

This has become a citywide issue in the last several months, Brown said, made worse by record-low traffic volumes due to the pandemic (Something that affects greater Downtown much more than other areas) and by people generally having more time on their hands. Sometimes groups of up to 200 people will assemble before racing around the city, he added, noting that Broadway is another popular venue for such activity.

"We're seeing it across the board," Brown added. "I myself was passed on Montaño by a car going about 80 mph."

Who's doing it? "These aren't all kids," he reports. The racers included a fair number of "people who should know better."

As luck and timing would have it, APD is slated to begin a special operation against drag racing this week. It will involve a wide array of tactics, including the use of undercover officers and air support, Brown said. They will deploy partly based on where they've had the biggest upticks in complaints (another advertisement for calling everything in, a habit police never tire of advocating). Typically, but by no means exclusively, drag racing happens 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. on weekend nights, he added, so efforts will likely focus on those days and times.

We should also be on the lookout for speed display trailers being deployed around greater Downtown, Brown continued.

"This is something that's going to take a little time," he said of the larger operation. There is no end date for the new crackdown.
The Sunday night lowrider/cruising event down Central seems to have dramatically increased in popularity since the lockdown, even spreading to Saturday nights, where before it was typically concentrated on Sundays. People gather in large groups in parking lots around the Downtown area and the traffic makes it nearly impossible for residents to get in and out of their parking spaces along Central from roughly 5 p.m to 9 p.m. Will APD look at closing Central earlier to all traffic (except residents) earlier?

This turns out to be more a political question than a police matter, Brown said. A city ordinance passed in 2018 allows cruising until 8 p.m., at which point the city places barricades in the road, diverting traffic away from Central and effectively breaking up the party.

As for larger-than-advisable crowds, APD's current policy is to educate people about public health restrictions rather than write lots of tickets. Brown said he can only recall one instance of police issuing a citation for something like that. 

"The biggest thing we're going to do is remind them," he said.
Commander Josh Brown is the top APD official at the Valley Area Command, a large district that includes greater Downtown and the North Valley.
Can you tell me if anyone is tracking COVID-19 in the homeless population? I see large groups, all without masks, hanging out in our neighborhoods without sanitary measures we have to take.

This is a two-part question, dealing with both law enforcement and public health. On the law enforcement side, Brown said that just as with the congregants at weekend cruising events, "we're not going to cite for that." All officers, however, carry extra masks and routinely pass them out to homeless people, again emphasizing education rather than enforcement. 

We put the larger question of how COVID-19 is tracked in the homeless population to city spokesman Bobby Sisneros. He said that while every service provider has its own procedure, the city takes the following precautions for people staying at the former-jail-turned-shelter near Double Eagle Airport: 
  • People getting on the charter bus at Coronado Park get a temperature check and are asked about symptoms and whether they've been around others who might be sick.
  • Once they reach the shelter, they go through another screening.
  • If someone shows symptoms, they are directed to an isolated area called a "blue pod" for possible testing later.
  • People are spaced out as much as possible at the shelter.
  • The most vulnerable people - about 60 in total - are being put up in a rented hotel off of Coors in an effort to keep them healthy.
Up until last week the city had seen fewer than ten cases at the shelter, Sisneros said, but last Friday it announced a major outbreak. On any given night, the shelter might house 300-400 people.

Outreach to the homeless population on safety measures, meanwhile, can be tough: "Some of them might not have access to the same communication methods that we have," Sisneros said, adding, "we do our best to spread the word."

But those problems are not confined to the homeless population either.

"I still see people out in Wal-Mart not wearing a mask," he said.
Crime generally went down during the lockdown and is still quite low in the Downtown core, but we've heard that instances of domestic violence have gone up. Have you seen that play out in the Valley Area?

Brown didn't have exact numbers offhand (they are a bit tricky to process because they often fall under other categories like assault) but did say he has noticed a significant-yet-not-dramatic rise is domestic violence cases. He chalks it up to the usual anger management or substance abuse issues suddenly confronting a situation where people have fewer opportunities to leave their houses.
Sometimes in neighborhood trackers, we see sudden spikes in crimes like burglary and auto theft that seem to involve much more than random fluctuations. What could be going on?

This is most likely someone getting out of jail and focusing mischief on a particular area, Brown said. Other times, it's a group activity.

"It's going to rise and fall depending on who is in jail," he said.
COMING MONDAY: Part two of our Q & A will tackle ways of dealing with homeless people in residential areas, how best to report ongoing suspicious or illegal activity, the homicides near Coronado Park, and more.
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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