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Bars and Dumpsters

By Greg MacAleese

No shortage of characters

All cops have their favorite memories of their time in the job.  My favorite memories, outside of Crime Stoppers, center around the time spent as a patrol officer and field investigator in downtown Albuquerque.

The area was rich with characters and wild events.

In particular, the downtown area has traditionally harbored a number of winos and homeless people, each experiencing their own unique challenges to life.

In the mid-70’s there were two notable watering holes for these folks, namely The Federal Bar and the Cross Keys Lounge.  The Federal Bar was located on the South Side of Fifth Street, just off Central Avenue.  The Cross Keys was on the Northside of Fifth Street.

It was my very first day on the street and I was out of the academy maybe three days when the brass put me on a walking beat covering Central Avenue South to Iron Avenue.

I ended up at the Federal Bar at 10 in the morning. There were about 100 people drinking and ordering various cheap drinks such as Thunderbird wine and Ripple wine, which were favorites in those days.

I loves you Blondie

I’m walking through and everybody is looking at me because I’m a brand-new face to them. They had no idea who I was. So there I am, just walking through, making eye contact and nodding my head.

Suddenly, I felt this hand grab me in the crotch. I look down to see a woman in her late 40s early 50s, with an elfin face and in drunken English, she slurred,

“I loves you Blondie”.

Her name, it turned out, was Margaret, who could be as mean as a cut snake and would slit you from your throat to your navel as soon as look at you, when she was drunk.

As a local resident and someone down on her luck, she also happened to be a sweet and approachable woman…when sober!

Margaret’s middle of the road guy

So, one day, I received a call that someone was laid out in the middle of Central Avenue at Fifth Street. We’re getting very close to rush hour traffic. I get over there and assume that the person face-down in the road is drunk.

It’s Margaret’s partner, David.

I shake him and proceed to get him up however, David could only stand upright with the aid of his walker, as some years back he had been driven over by a garbage truck, while drunk in an alley.

I had come to know both Margaret and David while on the beat and when I shook him he said,

“Hey Mac, I’m ok, Margaret kicked my walker out from under me, cause she was mad at me and I haven’t been able to move”. I helped him to his feet and got him out of harms way.

That night, I got another call from dispatch and was informed that there was a disturbance at the Cross Keys Lounge. So I head down there and I find Margaret. She is drunker than a skunk and, in a god almighty rage. Margaret had taken a bottle of ripple wine and thrown it at the bartender for refusing to serve her.  I was able to calm Margaret down and get her out of the bar before the other patrons killed her.

It’s love again

Early the following morning, I’m driving into work for a court case and I see a couple walking arm in arm down Fourth Street. Sure enough. It was David and Margaret. Their night was over, and they were now heading home, lovingly, together.

That was just the way it was, in my version of downtown Albuquerque.

A feed, some warmth and a cell

Another memorable local was Jimmy.  He was a cheerful Irishman of small physical stature who said his brother was a police chief someplace in New York.  I never bothered to check to see if he was telling the truth – probably he wasn’t.

At one point, Jimmy was down and out. He hatched a plan to escape the cold Albuquerque winter. His plan was to collect all his spare coins and take a taxi down to a jewellery store on Central Avenue.

Jimmy’s plan was simple. Upon exiting the vehicle, he simply smashed the front window of the jewellers, whereupon, the taxi driver promptly took off. Jimmy simply waited until the police arrived. He knew that this winter, he would have a room and regular, warm meals.

It’s sad looking back, but this was how some people survived.

Ain’t all roses and sunshine

Over time, you begin to realise that within our communities many people are trapped because of poverty, mental illness and substance abuse. These were often my customers in the middle of the night in downtown Albuquerque.

Whenever I could, I would spend about 30 minutes at the end of swing shift, driving around the alleyways looking for people who were down and out.  My fear was that they could be victimized by the predatory criminals who were always looking for an easy score, or that they would pass out in a dumpster looking for warmth on a cold winter’s night and then be crushed to death when a garbage truck unloaded the container.

In a way, these people were like my children.  They might be disgusting to some people, who would recoil from the vomit or the soiled clothes, but to me they were my responsibility.

It might surprise a lot of citizens who are reading this, but underneath their cold, detached, professional image, most cops have a tremendous amount of compassion for the people they deal with on a daily basis.

The good people of Barelas

That’s the way it was in Barelas.  Most of the people living in that barrio were good, hard-working people.   But they didn’t have the contacts, or the finances, to gain much traction with powerful people.

As a result, having somebody from government that they could reach out to – even an Anglo cop – became very important and that’s what often ended up happening.  I was the most visible representative of municipal government in their daily lives.

The Mayor

My fellow officers jokingly called me the “Alcalde de Barelas” (the Mayor of Barelas). Not because I did anything particularly special but because I understood the importance of reaching out to the residents.

Part of my philosophy as a police officer was to take the time to get to know the area I was working, otherwise I was just a strange face that came in for 8 hours a day. The local people don’t forget, and they know what’s happening around them.

In a collaborative effort, I would help citizens to resolve issues that were problematic to them. For example, I would take it upon myself to notify the authorities of potholes in the road that required repair or street lights that were out. Street lights were especially important as gangs would often shoot them out in order to stay in the shadows and remain anonymous.

Strong community means good partnerships

Public safety must be a partnership between the police officers working the beat and the people. The more that this partnership is built up, the safer and more effective you are as a cop and the safer the community becomes.

Now more than 40 years later, much has changed in Barelas.  Many homes have been refurbished, more businesses have come to the area.  It’s a thriving community. I’m happy for the people there.

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