Leaders seek to expand crime-fighting net of cameras and sensors beyond New Mexico’s largest city

Dec 18, 2023, 5:34 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s largest city is blanketed with 10,000 cameras, license plate readers along some of the busiest roadways and special listening devices that hone in on the sound of gunfire — all part of a technological net of sorts that Albuquerque authorities say has been an integral part of addressing high crime rates and record homicides.

With the push of a button, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller revealed the city’s Real Time Crime Center behind what had been a wall of opaque glass just moments earlier.

Video feeds from city intersections and bus stops played out simultaneously on a massive screen that covered one wall as individual stations were outfitted with numerous smaller monitors. There were feeds from local news stations and social media streaming as well as access to databases that included criminal records and facial recognition.

It’s meant to be one-stop shopping for Albuquerque police officers, providing real-time information as they respond to calls throughout the city.

The police chief and mayor say it’s working, They want state lawmakers to double down on the investment and expand its reach to neighboring communities. With more than $50 million already spent over several years, Albuquerque wants the Legislature to put in another $40 million so authorities will have eyes on more parts of the metro area and other police agencies can access and share data.

Keller said during a tour Friday that the technology and the ability of police and prosecutors to build better cases is helping make the community safer.

“We have a long, long way to go, but we’re going the right direction,” Keller said.

Albuquerque is one of many cities that have been pouring money in crime-fighting technology, with dozens of real time crime centers popping up in recent years and surveillance systems being expanded to more locations.

Keller pointed to the massive screen, highlighting a map with dozens of yellow markers on it — each one denoting gunshots detected by ShotSpotter. Authorities said those detections are cross referenced with live video from the area and license plate data that is captured to give responding officers a better idea of what they might be heading into or who they might be looking for.

“It not only enables us to catch people, but it keeps our officers safe day in and day out,” Police Chief Harold Medina said.

Medina touted the capabilities in solving some of the city’s most notable crimes over the last two years — from a hit-and-run that left a 7-year-old boy dead to the shooting deaths of four men that rocked Albuquerque’s Muslim community and a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of elected officials.

Weapons violations increased by 21% for the first nine months of 2023 compared to the previous year, according to data released by the Albuquerque Police Department. Authorities say that’s due to an increase in the ShotSpotter technology, which covers about 15% of the city.

Still, some have criticized reliance on the technology. A 2021 Associated Press investigation, based on a review of thousands of internal documents, confidential contracts and interviews with dozens of public defenders in communities where ShotSpotter has been deployed, identified a number of flaws in using the technology as evidentiary support for prosecutors.

There also are privacy concerns, said Daniel Williams, a policing policy advocate with the ALCU in New Mexico.

“There’s a balance between the very real risks to the privacy of all of us in our community when this sort of mass surveillance is employed and the legitimate need to solve crimes and keep us safe,” he said.

For lawmakers, Williams said the time has come for them to think about crafting data retention and reporting policies.

In Albuquerque, city councilors recently amended an ordinance that lengthens the retention policy from two weeks to a year, with Williams suggesting that’s too long.

“Our tradition in this country, our values are that we don’t engage in surveillance of people or intrude into the lives of people by law enforcement in case they might one day commit a crime,” he said.

Medina acknowledged those concerns, saying technology comes with a responsibility and that his department will use the tools where it can to ensure public safety.

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Leaders seek to expand crime-fighting net of cameras and sensors beyond New Mexico’s largest city