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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Ask anyone in Albuquerque about crime and they’ll say it’s on the rise.
Ask the FBI, and they’ll say the same thing.
The agency’s most recent Crime in the United States report, released Monday, showed that while the nation saw modest increases in violent crime and murders between 2015 and 2016, the largest city in New Mexico saw much larger spikes of 15.5 percent and 41.8 percent respectively. These increases in Albuquerque come amid a population growth of less than half a percentage point.
According to the data there were 61 murders in 2016 and 6,245 instances of violent crime — which includes murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
Property crimes increased by 13.3 percent, bucking the national trend of decreases in burglaries and larcenies. Albuquerque reported 38,528 property crimes — or 6,860 per 100,000 — and 6,236 total burglaries — 1,110 per 100,000 residents.
Auto thefts in the city jumped by the highest percentage. There were 7,710 motor vehicle thefts reported in 2016 — an almost 50 percent increase over the year before. That’s almost seven times the percentage change on a national level.
The only category that showed a decrease in the city last year was reports of rape, which fell by 5.69 percent.
The spike in Albuquerque crime comes on the heels of four consecutive years of rising violent crime and it’s the second straight year of rising property crime, according to the report. This is at odds with national data that shows a smaller increase in violent crime over the past two years following several years of declining rates.
Experts have attributed the country’s 4.1 percent increase in violent crime and 8.6 increase in murders to a few large cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Las Vegas, which have seen significant spikes.
Although the nation’s largest cities — those with populations of more than a million people — saw homicides rise by 20.3 percent, cities with similar populations to Albuquerque (between 500,000 and 999,999 residents) saw an average of only 6.5 percent increase in number of homicides and about .6 percent increase in all property crimes. Those cities experienced 6 percent more motor vehicle thefts.
Around the state
Although violent crime and property crime rose by 6.8 percent and 6.2 percent across New Mexico, much of that increase is carried by Albuquerque.
Many of the raw numbers are very small, but cities such as Carlsbad, Taos, and Las Cruces decreased in violent crime, according to the data. In Carlsbad, violent crime dropped by 17 percent from 161 instances to 133 instances; in Taos it dropped by 31 percent from 83 to 57, and in Las Cruces it dropped by 6 percent from 268 to 252 between 2015 and 2016. Violent crime increased by 4.18 percent in Santa Fe, despite a reported 20 percent jump in population, and 14.7 percent in Gallup.
Property crime also decreased in many cities across the state. In Carlsbad is dropped by 13 percent from 1,332 to 1,157 incidents, in Taos from 501 to 452 incidents, or by 9.7 percent, and in Las Cruces it fell by 5.4 percent. Property crime increased by 4 percent in Santa Fe.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden says part of the reason crime has spiked so dramatically over the past couple of years is the case management order that was put into place in 2015. The Supreme Court order, which only affected Bernalillo County, was meant to decrease the jail population by helping cases move through the courts more quickly.
“With the case management order we started to see cases being dismissed by the District Attorney’s office and started to see the jail population decrease,” Eden said in a phone interview Monday. “Quite frankly, what I think happened is there were just too many decisions being made in the criminal justice system and that has created a real perfect storm for our state and for the 2nd judicial district.”
He points to offenders who have been repeatedly arrested by police and let out of jail as the biggest driver of crime.
Eden’s comments echoed those of Mayor Richard Berry, who presented his final State of the City address Monday, and included the troubling crime stats in his comments.
The mayor said the Albuquerque Police Department was working closely with new District Attorney Raúl Torrez to identify repeat offenders and work on determining which ones pose the bigger danger to the community and which ones would benefit from treatment programs.
However, Shaun Willoughby, Albuquerque Police Officers Association president, said he believes it has more to do with a police department who’s staffing has been “decimated.”
“There is a direct correlation with felonious crime in Albuquerque and not having enough resources to investigate felonious crime,” Willoughby said. “We’re making thousands and thousands less arrests that we were several years ago and that has a significant impact on crime.”
APD’s force was at a low point of around 820 officers in early 2016 and has climbed up slightly to around 840 this year. Berry estimates the department needs 1,000 officers and several candidates seeking his position put that number closer to 1,200.