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Metro No. 1 in stolen cars

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

More than 27 vehicles a day. More than 10,000 for the year.

That’s how many vehicles were reported stolen from Albuquerque and neighboring counties in 2016, according to a recent report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

A photo illustration of how thieves may use a screwdriver in an ignition in order to steal cars. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The bureau reported the Albuquerque area had the highest per-capita rate of auto thefts in the country.

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It analyzed data provided by the National Crime Information Center which showed the greater Albuquerque area — Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties — had 1,114 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people last year. Pueblo, Colo., which ranks second in the nation, had 899 thefts per 100,000 people.

In 2016, the Albuquerque area saw a 50 percent increase over 2015 for vehicles that were reported stolen — 6,657 vehicles were reported stolen in 2015 and 10,011 in 2016. In 2015, the area was in the number two spot, behind Modesto, Calif.

The Albuquerque Police Department sets up bait cars to trap thieves near Jefferson and Interstate 25. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The increase comes on the heels of last year’s reported 45.6 percent jump in auto thefts in the city between 2014 and 2015, according to data provided by the Albuquerque Police Department.

Frank Scafidi, the director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said the organization uses data from NCIC rather than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, or UCR, because it is the most accurate way to count stolen vehicles.

“The UCR program is voluntary,” Scafidi said. “When law enforcement takes a vehicle theft report, that gets entered into NCIC. But if they’re not participating in the UCR program that number doesn’t get captured.”

He said it’s important to consider that areas with larger populations often have a higher total number of vehicle thefts, but those cities will rank lower when population is taken into account.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies investigate a stolen car that was crashed after a chase on Albuquerque’s West Side. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“You have 10,000 in four counties,” Scafidi said. “You’ve got other areas with five times as many thefts that never come up in top five because they have such a huge population to spread the thefts around.”

The high number of vehicle thefts concerns officials and law enforcement in Albuquerque — where the majority of the affected population is concentrated.

“As a mayor we’re absolutely aware of it,” said Mayor Richard Berry in a phone interview Friday. “We’re working closely with the District Attorney and with (the Albuquerque Police Department) to make sure we have resources to go after repeat offenders and to make sure they have what they need to go where they need to go.”

A car stolen from Albuquerque showed damage to its ignition when it was recovered in Taos last year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Last year the city of Albuquerque created a 14-point plan to combat the growing crime problem and created a team of civilians to assist officers with investigations into burglaries, robberies and thefts. Berry said APD is also working to hire more officers onto the force.

The efforts come at a time of critically low staffing at the police department, which Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby points to as driving the increase in crime. Six detectives and a sergeant are assigned to the auto theft unit, according to APD.

“Stolen cars have gone up and arrests have gone down because we don’t have people out there,” Willoughby said. “This problem is directly related to not having enough resources. There is no fear of apprehension.”

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to questions about their response to the increase in vehicle thefts by Friday evening.

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