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Press Release

Readout from United States Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez’s Violent Crime Listening Session with Westgate Community Members

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and his staff met with members of the Westgate community on August 2 at the Westgate Community Center to discuss violent crime. Becky Davis from the Westgate Heights and Avalon Neighborhood Associations, Michael Parra, school-based coordinator for the School-Based Violence Intervention Program (VIP), Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Glisson, Matthew Cross-Guillen, Health Promotion Specialist from the New Mexico Department of Health, Michele Torres, Principal of West Mesa High School, Sharay Hill, Community School Coordinator at West Mesa High School, Carolyn Brown, history teacher from West Mesa High School, and Stevie Maestas, a licensed Master Social Worker at West Mesa High School, presented statements. This listening session focused on community-based solutions and how to work with both parents and students to address issues affecting the community. This was the fifth and final listening session held with community members this summer.

United States Attorney Uballez opened the session by explaining that the Attorney General directed United States Attorney’s Offices to focus on addressing violent crime through intervention and outreach efforts. Participants described how generational trauma creates a cycle of violence in Albuquerque. Others described systemic issues within the juvenile justice system that fail to address recidivism and provide resources to young offenders before they commit felonies. All participants agreed that adults and teachers need more support, education, and resources to help teens become productive members of society when they reach adulthood.

Stevie Maestas started the session by sharing the effects violence in the community has on the schools. “This is my eighth year at West Mesa and I have never seen the violence and the amount of issues be this big,” Maestas said. “We have [no] less than 500 kids at any moment at high-risk who are getting behavior, attendance and course performance… those three indicators are very much indicating that our students need support and help.”

(Behavior, attendance and course performance are strong predictors of high school completion and part of  an early warning indicator system that identifies students who are in danger of dropping out and need help to keep them on track for graduation, thereby improving their chances of future success.)

Michael Parra posed the idea that providers should shift the focus on prevention and education to elementary school-aged families. Parra explained that providers need to go to ‘the root’ because that is when parents begin to establish and grow their skills. Parra and Maestas explained that this was necessary so that parents and guardians could be proactive instead of reactive. Maestas posited that Head Start programs focusing on families with young children would help parents and guardians who are trying to break down generational trauma by making it normal for them to ask for help.

Michele Torres shared that she had introduced “Coffee with the Principal” in order to connect with student’s families and that she has found it has a positive impact. Torres extended an invitation to USA Uballez to attend this and other school events so that he would have the opportunity to converse with students and their families, and to show the students that he and his staff are safe adults who want them to be successful. This would also show the teachers, parents and guardians that he and his staff are present in the community and listening.

In response to USA Uballez’s question about how to most effectively reach families, Carolyn Brown explained that parents and guardians are not fully aware of what schools can and cannot do to address the root issues that can be indicators of future violence, and when they do become aware of the schools’ limitations, parents and guardians often recognize their part in the solution. Brown and other participants recommended that the USA employ a similar tactic by being transparent and taking steps to fully inform the community about the challenges it faces and his office’s role in addressing those issues.

Carolyn Brown reiterated the importance of federal prosecutors going into the schools to reach students and families and being transparent about what issues they are seeing in the city as well as the effects on the community as a whole. USA Uballez agreed with the participants that it was important for him to hear from community members and that new tactics need to be employed by the Department. As a result, USA Uballez attended West Mesa’s first parents’ night of the new school year and spoke to families about the actions his office is taking to address violent crime.

All participants expressed a tremendous passion for and commitment to improving their communities and came to the table with achievable, family-focused solutions. Sharay Hill summarized this best in her statement, “The kids have so much potential, even the kids that get in trouble. I think they are so smart and have so much passion and it breaks my heart to know that some of them are trapped under a system or are being exposed to things that they can’t get out of.” Hill added, “there’s a lot of conversation around wanting to provide the highest quality of education possible so that these students can move on and pursue life after high school, because there’s so much life, and hopefully [they] succeed at whatever that is.”

USA Uballez convened this listening session as part of the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program. USA Uballez previously met with representatives from organizations that serve Albuquerque’s International District, community providers who serve the unhoused population, social justice activists, and addiction and treatment service providers. These sessions were an opportunity for the USA and his staff to recognize the vital role that these leaders, providers and advocates play in our community.

Immediately following the first listening session in July, USA Uballez and his staff began implementing specific efforts to support the community based on the recommendations they received. Steps taken included assisting organizations with getting reimbursement for services provided to law enforcement agencies, participating in National Night Out, and equipping service providers with information, resources, and documents to help them more effectively serve their communities. In the coming months, USA Uballez and his staff will continue to focus on intervention and outreach efforts.

PSN is an evidence-based program proven effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. In New Mexico, the United States Attorney’s Office pursues a community violence intervention approach. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally-based intervention, prevention, and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

PSN programs are led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in collaboration with local public safety agencies and community organizations. The programs’ emphasis on community engagement, prevention and intervention measures, focused and strategic enforcement, and measurement and accountability has helped achieve overall reductions in violent crime, including gun homicides, in neighborhoods where PSN strategies have been implemented.

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23-202 

Updated August 25, 2023

Topic
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Press Release Number: 23-202