• A years-long game of 'not it' is sorted, bringing light to freeway underpasses
  • Downtown TEAM, the policing-through-donations program, has begun. Here's how it works.
  • Garcia family tops list of TEAM donors
  • KiMo birthday bash is tomorrow
A years-long game of 'not it' is sorted, bringing light to freeway underpasses
While not exactly an inviting garden-lined affair, the pedestrian passage under I-25 along Central was at least well lit last week. It hasn't always been so.
One of the perks of staying at the Econo Lodge on Central just west of I-25 is its proximity to Presbyterian Hospital. Guests who need to look after a friend or family member have only to walk about 1,000 feet - less than a quarter of a mile - to the hospital's front entrance.

But that quick trip can be a seriously fraught business. Some motel guests have run into rough characters along the way, owner Ajay Jarimala told DAN. And then there's the lighting, which he said has sometimes been out of commission for years on end.

"It's real dark. You can't see 10 feet away from where you're standing unless some car passes by," Jarimala said. Customers "are afraid to walk under the pass."

Getting a bulb replaced or a circuit repaired would normally be a fairly simple matter. Last year, for instance, a question put to our Detective DAN feature led to the swift replacement of 29 bulbs in Tingley Park's perimeter light fixtures. But the intersection of Central and I-25 is tricky because it's not obviously clear who is in charge. The street is the city's jurisdiction, but the interstate is controlled by the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The lights are attached to one and meant to illuminate the other.

For years, Jarimala made occasional calls about the problem. NMDOT told him it was the city's problem, he said, and the city told him it was NMDOT's problem. Pedestrians stayed in the dark, and he started offering to shuttle his guests over to the hospital in a car. At one point, he even hired an electrician to come and evaluate the situation.

But things began to change when the problem was featured earlier this year at a meeting of the Downtown Public Safety ECHO, a regular gathering of police, other city officials, and various interested Downtown area parties. The meetings are designed as collaborative problem-solving seminars, and this one had the effect of prodding the city and state into putting their heads together.

As part of those discussions, city spokesman Scott Cilke said, the state dug up an old written agreement between the two parties likely dating back to the construction of the Big-I - roughly 20 years ago - that settled the matter: Lighting is the city's problem.

"Agreements are typically prepared for individual construction projects," Cilke said. "Standard procedure for NMDOT construction is to turn over traffic signals and street lighting to local agencies to maintain upon completion of the project."

There are roughly 15 underpasses traversing I-40 and I-25 in the Greater Downtown area, and many more elsewhere in the city.

"We have tasked the contractor which is responsible for maintaining street lights for the city to do a comprehensive audit of all the under-bridge lighting at interchanges and proceed with repair or replacement as necessary," Cilke said.
Downtown TEAM, the policing-through-donations program, has begun. Here's how it works.
Nearly three months have passed since Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of a novel policing program for the city center. Called "Downtown TEAM" (for targeted enforcement and active monitoring), it involves police officers signing up for voluntary overtime shifts paid for via special donations made to the One Albuquerque Fund.

The idea amounts to a new take on an old APD initiative called "chief's overtime."

Traditionally, the program has been used by large retailers, film shoots, and events looking to hire off-duty officers for extra security. But the idea of soliciting donations from Downtown core businesses and residents to pay for extra and more generalized neighborhood-level policing is a new one and has provoked some decidedly mixed reactions. Supporters generally see it as a practical step with a decent chance of getting positive results, while critics mostly take the view that the city owes Downtown the basic level of security the program is promising and was already paid to provide it through taxes. (City Councilor Brook Bassan seemed sceptical as well during a recent meeting.)

Despite the controversy, however, the program has gone forward, raising an extra $40,000 in donations on top of the $90,000 that had been pledged when the program was announced in June (see donor list below). The first of the special patrols went out Labor Day weekend, Keller told Visit Albuquerque's annual meeting last week. 

The work of those patrols, however, is slated to be quite different than a typical shift, which is largely devoted to responding to 911 and 242-COPS calls. Here's a Q & A guide: 

What is this police presence going to look like in terms of how many people are out there and for how long?
A shift will generally last four hours and involve four officers and a sergeant, APD Deputy Chief Josh Brown told DAN. 

What will they be doing? 
APD has created a "menu" of things that the officers are supposed to be concentrating on, Brown said. Items on that menu include trying to prevent violent crimes, threats to businesses, noise issues like modified exhausts, and other "quality of life" issues.

How is that different from what the Downtown-assigned cops do all day anyway?
Mostly, officers spend their time responding to calls and checking in with businesses. Instead, officers will basically be assigned a project and will focus on that without having to deal with the other stuff.

"The TEAMs aspect is specifically geared toward being proactive. It's going out, it's writing citations," Brown said.

Making arrests is a priority as well, one the mayor highlighted last week

When will the shifts happen? 
Weekends will definitely be a focus, but a lot of it depends on when the data says the main problems are happening. Wednesday mornings, for example, tend to be oddly busy in the core, so that shift is a possibility as well. 

How often will they be out there and for how long can they keep it up?
That will depend firstly on officers signing up for the program: "These are voluntary shifts," Brown said. "We can't force people to take them."

But the money to pay for it all is also something of an open question, since it depends on donors. One four-hour shift with four officers and a sergeant will cost $1,164, according to pricing data provided by Valley Area Commander Nick Wheeler. Based on the funds raised as of mid-August, that would translate into 110 such shifts - or the rough equivalent of one full-time officer working for a year.

How can numbers that small possibly make a difference?
Brown says relatively small groups of officers can get big results when they are freed up from that day-to-day work of answering calls and focus on keeping a steady presence in a specific area. He points to West Central as an example of that, noting that calls for service there have gone down since APD launched a tactical plan focusing on the area and its particular speeding and noise problems at the beginning of the year. Bring that sort of consistency to the Downtown core, he argues, and it can change the parameters of behavior.

That's what APD is counting on at least, and so is the mayor. 

"We have some real hope," Keller said last week, "that that's going to make a noticeable difference."
Garcia family tops list of donors to policing effort
Donations for the Downtown TEAM program are being managed by the One Albuquerque Fund, a non-profit organization. Last month, the group provided the list of donors seen below, and while a few are household names, others require a bit more explanation, which we've provided: 
  • Garcia Honda - $50,000: While known mainly for their car dealerships, the Garcia family's extensive Downtown core property holdings include First Plaza Galleria, Glorieta Station, the complex that Villa Myriam Coffee Roasters is located in, the former Skip Maisel's Indian Jewelry, and the Rosenwald Building.
  • Curtis and Company - $25,000: The law firm is located in the same building as JC's New York Pizza Department.
  • Two Hundred Central LLC - $15,000: The company's registered agent is Thomas Keleher, an Albuquerque attorney. 
  • PNM - $15,000
  • Visit Albuquerque - $10,000
  • Yes Housing - $2,500: The non-profit developer's Downtown projects include Casitas de Colores and the Imperial Building Apartments.
  • Theatre Block LLC - $2,500: The company's registered agent is Dale Armstrong, the president and CEO of TLC plumbing.
  • One Central Associates LLC - $2,500: The company's projects include the One Central Building at First and Central.
  • Geltmore - $2,500: The real estate developer's projects include the Imperial Building and recent residential developments near Coal and Fourteenth.
  • WaFd Bank - $2,000
  • Del Esparza - $500: Esparza is the founder of a marketing, branding, and advertising firm located at Sixth and Copper.
KiMo birthday bash tomorrow
The free event will feature self-guided tours, live music, and various food and drink from local vendors. Details here.
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