Briefing: 
  • Though controversial, Wells Park's weekday closure seems to have reduced camping complaints
  • Crime spikes in Downtown core even as surrounding neighborhoods see modest reductions
Though controversial, Wells Park's weekday closure seems to have reduced camping complaints
The park is located just west of the Johnny Tapia Community Center (Fifth and Mountain). For a time, campers moved to the eastern edge of the building along Fifth, but the city put up temporary fencing to block that area off as well.
For years, the greenspace from which the surrounding Wells Park neighborhood gets its name has been a particularly popular hangout and camping spot for homeless people. And for just as long, that has set up a conflict with the adjacent Johnny Tapia Community Center, which features an array of programming for area children.

But following complaints from nearby residents and those children's parents - plus a couple of probing KOB stories - the city over the summer took action. Police and city security officers instituted a weekday closure at the park between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., blocking off access during those hours to everyone not involved in an official community center program. At first, several campers appeared to relocate to the eastern edge of the building, along Fifth, but the city soon erected new chainlink fencing to block that area off as well, a move community center manager José Martínez, speaking at a recent Wells Park Neighborhood Association meeting, said was temporary. (The fencing is presently fastened with zip ties to metal stakes driven into the ground.)

The closure and eviction of homeless people was itself controversial, but if the end goal was a park completely at the disposal of community center programs, that mission at least seems to have been accomplished. Several visits in recent weeks by DAN found a park that was either empty or just about, and WPNA President Doreen McKnight said she has heard drastically fewer complaints from neighbors recently.

The city seems satisfied with the new arrangement as well. 

"It has created a safe space for children participating in community center programming to utilize the park," spokesman Bobby Sisneros said.

Martínez had also told the neighborhood association that area residents looking to use the park during the closed hours could do so by signing in at the front desk. But when asked for further details, Sisneros said that had changed.

"There were some instances where members of the community were allowed to use the park," he said. "As soon as this practice came to our director's attention, the department's original approach was reinstated. Moving forward, only community center programs will be allowed to use the park as indicated on the signs placed within the park ... the intent of the policy is not to exclude our unhoused neighbors from the park. The intent is to create and reserve a safe space for the children to use."

For McKnight, the closure amounts to making the best of a bad situation: "I think that what they did was a creative way to find a short-term solution to the issue over there and it has worked," she said.

The long-term solution? Actual progress on the homelessness epidemic and its particularly direct impact on the neighborhood.

"My issue is less with those individual campers and more with the city," McKnight said. "The city has an outreach team. They knew that those people were there and for over a year and a half they didn't do anything."
Crime spikes in the Downtown core even as surrounding neighborhoods see small reductions
Thanks to higher-than-normal levels of burglary and assault (something that includes shots-fired calls), the Downtown core saw a level of crime in September that is high even by pre-pandemic standards.

Crime reports had plummeted during the initial lockdown (DAN, 4/17/20) but began climbing back up in earnest this spring. Over the summer, things appeared to have leveled off, but September had other plans. With 141 incidents registered on our tracker, the Downtown hasn't been this busy since April of 2019, when it hit 143:
The uptick appears to have shown up in the circling aircraft figures are well, which are at their highest level since a series of conversations with members of the City Council led to a reduction last year (DAN, 2/1/21):
The situation even appears to have spilled over into the Barelas measurement area, which includes a sliver of the Downtown core:
Those spikes were offset a bit, however, by modest declines relative to August in the measurement areas covering Wells Park, West Old Town, West Park, West Downtown, and Huning Castle:
And in Old Town/Sawmill, the elevated levels we first started to see in the spring remain:
Overall, incident numbers are higher than in 2020 but lower than 2018 and 2019. Disturbing the peace calls are also down relative to a summer spike and to pre-pandemic times:
Sources and methods for our monthly crime survey are here.
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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