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4 Investigates: Safety while shopping

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Crime can often seem unpredictable, but there are certain parts of town, specific properties, and even businesses where trouble is sometimes expected, and it’s not really advertised.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Crime can often seem unpredictable, but there are certain parts of town, specific properties, and even businesses where trouble is sometimes expected, and it’s not really advertised.

Now, a back-and-forth battle on who’s responsible for that has city leaders pointing to property managers and businesses pointing to police.

Everyone has a price to pay, especially the people caught in the middle. No one knows that better than Suzanna Valdez. It was the week before Christmas in 2019 when she was attacked in the Walgreens parking lot at Central and Girard.
 
“I will never again take it for granted that I’m safe when walking in parking lots or in stores,” said Suzanna Valdez.

Valdez said she noticed a man while inside. Someone who spoke to her in one of the store aisles. He told her she was pretty. She gave a quick “thanks” but went on her way.

Surveillance video recorded Valdez leaving the store and walking to her car. A few moments later the same man followed her out. He quickly walked to her car, first her passenger window, then her driver’s side door.

“Before I knew it, he was on top of me,” said Valdez.

Witnesses said the man forced himself on Valdez and punched her repeatedly. In an effort to defend herself and drive at the same time, she crashed into two cars — one with a baby on board. In the chaos, they almost ran over two men trying to help.

It seemed completely random, completely unprovoked. Valdez now believes it was foreseeable.

“Businesses have a duty to their customers to keep them safe, period,” said Valdez.

She filed a lawsuit against Walgreens, its security advisor, property manager, and her attacker –  a man named Garrett Andrews who was at the Walgreens that morning to buy booze.

“They make billions of dollars, billions of dollars, and they expect us to believe they are doing everything they can to keep us safe and it’s simply not true,” said Valdez.

In the year of her attack, Walgreens at Central and Girard saw a sharp rise in calls to police, from 327 calls in 2018 to 471 calls to police in 2019. 

In an interview with attorneys, the store manager at the time, Anthony Salas, blamed some of it on a hands-off approach to crime.

“It was humiliating to let people walk out with merchandise right in front of us,” said Anthony Salas to attorneys.

“That was your instruction from Walgreens was to stand down and let them walk out?“ said an attorney representing Valdez. 

“Yes,” said Salas.

Salas indicated those nearly 500 calls to police in 2019 didn’t cover every crime, not by a long shot.

Carla Sonntag of the New Mexico Business Coalition said many businesses don’t report everything. Why would they?

“If you’re not enforcing the smaller crimes, they’re not worried about the larger crimes,” said Sonntag.

She points to Albuquerque police’s shift in enforcement in 2017. When APD announced officers would no longer make arrests for certain non-violent crimes like shoplifting and criminal damage, it was the result of a lawsuit against the city.

“This is detrimental to the community,” said Shaun Willoughby of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association in 2017.

KOB 4 asked APD Chief Harold Medina if the shift in enforcement back then could have impacted the escalation of crime over the years.

“If they [criminals] think there are no consequences, and they continue to commit those crimes, they will continue to commit them,” said Medina.

Medina points to the city’s ADAPT program, which focuses on properties or businesses cleaning up their own, so-called hotspots for crime.

The ADAPT program started in 2019 to address problem properties or places where police were frequently called. It is housed under Albuquerque Fire Rescue’s umbrella.

“These are really truly properties that need some help,” said Emily Jaramillo, chief of Albuquerque Fire Rescue.
 
Jaramillo said program entry is based on reviewed reports related to calls for service. A confirmed shoplifting would tally four points, drug use counts as six, and a burglary, that’s four points. 

It only takes 40 to 80 points over a year to land a property on the ADAPT list. AFR said close to 800 properties right now meet those criteria.

“The goal is a 15% reduction in crime our average is, with a property they work with, a 70% decrease in crime,” said Jaramillo.

It’s not meant to be punitive, but if you get on the list, you are required to do some lifting. That could mean lighting, surveillance systems, or gates. 

But it’s not a sure crime-eliminating fix, some properties that graduate still have hundreds of calls to police.

“If a business calls for help, they genuinely need help. It has gotten so bad in Albuquerque that many businesses have stopped calling because if they call too often, they’re going to be deemed a nuisance property and put out of business,” said Sonntag.

“You know what? I would love to have 1,000 more officers. Let’s raise taxes, let’s increase the amount of funding we get at the police department so we can put more officers out to protect private businesses,” said Medina in response to questions about increasing the level of response at local businesses.

Walgreens entered into a Nuisance Abatement Agreement with the city’s ADAPT program this year, vowing to address its properties including Central and Girard.

“How is anyone supposed to know what’s going on behind the scenes?” said Valdez.

It was only through her lawsuit she discovered details she said customers have a right to know.

“I think we all wanted more security there,” said the store manager at the time, Anthony Salas, to attorneys. 

“You’re saying you wanted more security?” asked attorneys representing Valdez.

“Yes,” said Salas.

It was a sentiment echoed by security at the time, IPS. When they didn’t get more money for more officers, they ended service just weeks before her attack.

“How could these things fall through the cracks?” said Valdez.

Valdez is still recovering, learning to live with the traumatic brain injury she suffered. Since then, she’s been unable to practice law as effectively as she used to. So, her once thriving law office, just blocks from the Walgreens, looks much different than it once did.

“Somebody else is going to take over this space,” said Valdez, cleaning up her space at her law firm.

Valdez settled her suit with Walgreens and the property manager, though her case isn’t completely over.

In addition to that agreement with ADAPT, IPS is also providing armed security at the Walgreens on Central and Girard from open to close. 

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