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Curbing car theft takes more than aggressive policing

The Albuquerque metro, including our surrounding counties, had the nation’s highest auto theft rate in 2016. To tackle this serious problem we need to first identify the root causes and then work with all partners in our justice system toward solutions.

Auto thieves must be caught, and our officers are doing that over and over again. But it’s equally important for thieves to face real consequences for their crimes. We have been developing a number of new initiatives to help combat the spike in auto thefts.

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden and I recently joined new District Attorney Raúl Torrez, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI to announce a multi-agency team that will use data to better identify, track, apprehend and aggressively prosecute our area’s most serious repeat offenders. It’s called the “Analysis Led Recidivism Team,” or ALeRT. Participating police and prosecutors meet weekly with our new team of repeat offender analysts within APD.

Under ALeRT, fugitive apprehension teams are immediately notified and quickly deployed when a warrant is issued for a serious repeat offender. When an offender is arrested, the DA’s office is instantaneously alerted and the case is aggressively prosecuted from the first court appearance to sentencing. The DA fights for higher bond and stricter conditions of release, using detailed information provided by our analysts about the offender’s criminal history and connection to other crimes.

This is critical because it represents an all-hands-on-deck approach by prosecutors and police to protect our people and their property.

It is also necessary because of the recent profound disruptions in our justice system. When DA Torrez took office, nearly 8,000 unindicted criminal cases awaited him, many of them involving repeat offenders whose cases had been repeatedly dismissed. The collective felony conviction rate over the past three years among the current pool of identified ALeRT offenders – some of the most serious in our community – is only 15 percent! With odds like that, it’s no wonder repeat criminals have stepped up their activities.

The DA just announced that between 2014 and 2016, there was a 40 percent reduction in pending property and violent crime cases. Why? He points to the imposition of new case processing rules from the New Mexico Supreme Court that favor “… technical compliance over justice …” and cause “… repeat and multiple offenders to reap the greatest windfall of district court decisions.”

At the same time, the adoption of numerous criminal justice reforms has swiftly and dramatically reduced the local jail population – from over 3,000 inmates in 2009 to roughly 1,200 inmates today. Parts of our jail have actually been closed down due to a lack of inmates.

Now, after four years of our city’s lowest historical crime rates during my first term, crime is spiking. According to the DA’s report, “While district court docket numbers have indeed dropped under the CMO, and the population of the Metropolitan Detention Center has decreased, these reductions have come at the expense of justice and public safety.” This is the same conclusion as the study we commissioned last year.

Despite this disruption in our justice system, we have an opportunity to work together and send a strong message to repeat offenders that there will be real consequences for their actions.

Thanks to voters, our DA and judges now have the ability to hold certain dangerous offenders in jail without bail prior to trial. That should also include repeat auto thieves.

We are adding officers to APD at the highest rate in over a decade, and we recently launched the APD mobile app to make crime reporting easier. Our new city program that uses technicians to process property crime cases also allows our officers to respond to calls faster and dedicate more manpower to catching criminals.

Through these efforts and others, we can once again drive down auto theft in our community. But it will take all members of the system working together to ensure that thieves face real consequences for their actions.