Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods founder: ‘I see crime getting worse’

By Paige Wagenknecht

Oct 30, 2023

Colleen Aycock, founder of Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods (WTBON ), said the group’s number one goal is to eliminate crime. 

The citizen activist group was founded in 2018 in Albuquerque South East Heights to inform the public and demand greater accountability from elected and other civic leaders for preventing crime on Central Ave., in neighborhoods, and in public parks. 

But with the increase in crime in the last five years, Aycock said they are focusing more on combating crime than ever. 

“Our biggest stumbling blocks are the politicians because they won’t advocate for the needs of the citizens in the neighborhoods of Albuquerque,” Aycock said to the New Mexico Sun.

Albuquerque has been grappling with a dual crisis of rising homelessness and escalating crime, which are intrinsically linked. The situation has reached alarming levels, with a 48% increase in homelessness reported in 2023.

The Southwest Journal recently ranked Albuquerque at No. 8 in a top 20 listing of the most dangerous cities nationwide. In 2023, Albuquerque reported 12.4 homicides and 1,127.7 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

The city’s policies under Mayor Tim Keller are criticized for being ineffective, and in some cases, counterproductive. Public safety has deteriorated to the point where residents, businesses, and groups – like WTBON – are taking their security measures, including private armed security and neighborhood watches. 

The crisis is also shaping the political landscape, with upcoming elections expected to focus heavily on these issues. There is a pressing need for comprehensive, community-centric solutions to address the root causes and offer long-term relief.

“It surprises me that we have an untold number of city employees who are not dealing with the problem,” she said. “They think they’re acting on the problem, but I don’t see anything happening on the streets. I just don’t see it changing. I see crime getting worse.”

Aycock, who is also a resident of Four Hills in southeast Albuquerque, is determined to overcome the challenge by helping lawmakers write legislation and providing them with the necessary background information.

“We do research,” she said. “We shame them. I just sent my third letter to David Simon who is the director of Parks and Recreation. On the corner of Tramway and Central, is an area that he does not know if it’s designated as a park or a highway easement. So, he can’t give me the ordinance that governs the area where our largest unhoused encampment is of 30 or 40 tents every night.”

In a response to the New Mexico Sun, Simon said that the area is presently managed by the Solid Waste Department.

“They are the best source of information regarding the I-40 right-of-way,” Simon said in an emailed statement. “We shall provide answers regarding any park ordinances as soon as we can confirm accurate info.”

WTBON currently has about 90 members, both men and women, Aycock said. The group now mostly meets on Zoom since their numbers outgrew the local libraries. 

Their last neighborhood rally was at the corner of Academy and Eubank in June 2022 where members raised awareness about the crime and rising number of unhoused citizens in that area. 

“We wanted to bring to the people’s attention in that area that our problems in South Albuquerque and a little bit north of I-40 are going to be their problems too and just because you live in a gated community, you can’t bury your head to the problems of the whole city,” she said. “It will come back to bite you and sure enough, it has. They’re having problems up there, too.”