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Crime Stoppers, the early days (Episode One)

By Greg MacAleese

The Land of Enchantment – New Mexico

Many people get confused when they hear the name of the 47th US state, New Mexico aka, The Land of Enchantment. Often it’s mistaken for the country of Mexico to the South, with its mountains and desert expanses, tourist destinations and popularized drug trafficking culture.

Popular television shows such as Breaking Bad and Narcos don’t help as they feed into unfair misconceptions of New Mexico and its largest city, Albuquerque.

The city has always been in a state of flux. Interstate corridors I-40 and I-25 feed a transiency of people moving east or west through Texas, California and Arizona or northward from Mexico.

In decades past, this migration often saw people run out of money in Albuquerque. This would in turn feed the city’s predominance of robberies, stolen cars, prostitution and drugs.

Back in the 70’s lots of drugs were coming up from Mexico which added to the despondency of residents and law enforcement.

Crime rates in Albuquerque were once among the highest in the United States and particularly problematic in the Barelas barrio. You could say that Barelas was always getting the short end of the stick. When other parts of Albuquerque were getting malls, parks and new subdivisions, Barelas got the sewerage treatment centre.

Prior to becoming a Violent Crimes detective, I was a field investigator (uniformed detective) covering the entire area of downtown Albuquerque. However, I specifically concentrated on Barelas because I knew that a lot of our drug dealers came out of there.

A thoroughfare for drug trafficking

One of the biggest heroin dealers in the city operated from within the barrio. Bobby Montoya, aka Cadillac Bobby, was the major distributor for heroin all the way from New Mexico up through the Midwest to Chicago. As the foremost king pin, he was on my radar and everyone who went in and out of his house was automatically stopped.

During that era, heroin was the drug of choice and was the cause of much crime throughout New Mexico, particularly Albuquerque. Citizens were rightly concerned, and it was important for me as a cop to learn what I could about who was committing the crimes.

Whenever time allowed, I would get out of my car and start talking to people who were sitting in front of their home or walking on the street. I’d introduce myself and ask them what they were concerned about in their barrio.

It was a novel approach. Often police officers would drive around in the summer with the windows up and the air-conditioner on. In winter, they’d drive around with the windows up and the heaters on.

Public as the police, police as the public

Getting to know the residents, learning their concerns and involving the public ultimately lead to the creation of Crime Stoppers. By engaging with the public, we were able to bring Albuquerque’s crime rate down substantially. As the creator of the first modern police force, ex-British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, once said:

“The public are the police and the police are the public.”

At no point in time is the public more important than today, when it comes to our safety.

Many police departments around the world are so understaffed that police officers don’t have the time to be fully proactive in their policing approach. They often go from call to call with cases being stacked up. This is not just in Albuquerque but virtually every city throughout the United States and is being experienced in major cities around the world.

It’s important that the public is aware of crime issues not just locally but crime trends worldwide, as we share a lot of similar issues across different countries. We all have a role to play in making sure that our world is a safer place for our families, our children’s families and for each other.

That is the goal. Police and citizens must work together, it’s the proven way.

Many examples of successful citizen involvement can be found from around the world courtesy of the success of Crime Stoppers, the program I created in 1976.

Putting away one of Albuquerque’s worst

One particularly satisfying case I recall from Albuquerque involved the participation of residents who were keen to see a notorious and violent criminal put behind bars.

This involved a series of aggressive residential robberies. Someone was breaking into the homes or apartments of elderly men late at night and robbing them of whatever little money they had. The offender was a very violent individual whose weapon of choice was a sword cane.

He liked to leave a calling card, sort of like the mark of Zorro, and had almost cut an ear off one of the victims. He

was getting more and more violent each time and we had six of these incidents under investigation.

The elderly men had given me a pretty good description of the offender, who had a distinguishing and very prominent growth on his forehead. After a great deal of research, I discovered the guy was Lawrence Bojorquez.

One day an elderly man who had been victimized flagged me down on Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s main street, and said that the man who robbed him was walking up the street. When he saw me approaching, Bojorquez took off running and being younger in those days I took off after him.

There was no way this guy was getting away. He ran North on Fourth Street and then turned into an alley. I was going hell-bent for leather when Bojorquez made a stupid decision to stop and make a stand by reaching for his sword cane.

I should have drawn my weapon and fired. However, I did the thing which came naturally in the moment, which was to take a flying leap and kick him hard to the head. I mean, I really knocked this guy into next week. I knew how dangerous he was and the damage he had done to several defenseless, elderly men.

In a small way, Albuquerque was a little bit safer that night.

I love this place

Back in those days, Albuquerque really was a tough place. Crime rates were high and there was never any shortage of work for a cop.

But I sure love that city, particularly the downtown area and the nearby environs and do to this day. Albuquerque is in one of the most beautiful locations in the world and boasts some of the greatest people.

I got to know many of the residents personally and without doubt, the residents of Albuquerque are quite unlike those often portrayed on television.

I experienced what a tremendous difference was made when the public became involved and it was the people of Albuquerque that helped me start the world’s largest crime-fighting organization, Crime Stoppers.

The fact that Crime Stoppers has been successful in almost every location it operates around the world just reinforces that Ol’ Bobby Peel was right – the police are the public and the public are the police.

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