ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Three Albuquerque police officers were shot and another was injured while responding to a robbery Thursday, leaving law enforcement officials and elected leaders frustrated as New Mexico’s largest city continues to grapple with a record-setting year of deadly violence.
Authorities said one of the officers was hit at the base of the neck, just above his bulletproof vest, and was listed in critical condition. One officer was shot in the forearm, and another was saved by his vest when he was struck in the chest by gunfire. The fourth officer was hit in the eye with shrapnel.
While the investigation is ongoing, Police Chief Harold Medina said multiple people were detained and the person believed to have fired at officers was in custody. That suspect was shot but is in stable condition, he said.
Medina called on the criminal justice system to come together to find ways to intervene and curb the violence, citing the “revolving door” that many residents have blamed for persistent crime problems and the latest rash of shootings. He also acknowledged that not all people can be saved.
“People need to want to get help, but some people need to stay in jail,” he said. “And that is something we can’t be afraid of saying. It needs to be said. Our courts need to hear it. Our prosecutors need to hear it, and our community needs to voice their frustration and ensure that we start making the changes to keep bad people in jail.”
He said frustration among law enforcement and the community has been mounting, but Thursday marked a pinnacle.
The officers were responding to reports of a robbery Thursday morning when they were fired upon. Authorities initially closed roads and nearby schools were put on lockdown after the shooting as officers swarmed an area near a coffee shop in a commercial district on the city’s northeast side.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller called it a horrible scene and asked for residents to pull together for the officers and their families.
The city has been struggling with a record number of homicides this year, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham just this week announced she would reassign more state police officers to New Mexico’s largest city in an effort to help ease the burden.
Republican lawmakers have asked for the Democratic governor to call a special legislative session to address what they have described as a public emergency, saying the state needs tougher criminal statutes and that repeat offenders need to remain behind bars.
Albuquerque officials acknowledged recent tragedies, including a school shooting last week that left a 13-year-old student dead. The police chief also noted it was nearly 16 years ago to the day that the city lost two veteran police officers in a deadly shooting rampage committed by a man with a mental illness.
“It’s a very emotional time,” Medina said.
Lujan Grisham’s office said the governor was horrified by Thursday’s events. Spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the administration is keenly aware of the public safety issues facing the Albuquerque area and that the additional state police officers began working with local law enforcement Tuesday.
“The governor has committed to substantial public safety investments, including an effort to fund and support 1,000 new police officers statewide over the next decade, in the coming legislative session,” Sackett said, adding Lujan Grisham looks forward to Republican support of initiatives aimed at helping local jurisdictions combat violent crime and keeping repeat violent offenders locked up.
Dr. Steven McLaughlin, an official at University of New Mexico Hospital, was among those who briefed reporters Thursday afternoon. In his two decades working at the hospital, he said he has seen violence in the city escalate. He said the emergency room sees gunshot victims every day.
“Gun violence is a public health emergency that we’re facing,” he said, adding that investments need to be made in research to better understand the causes.