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Generalists in crime: Typical ‘repeat arrestee’ has faced wide variety of charges

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Throughout last week, Ubaldo Terrazas’ mug shot scowled down on Downtown Albuquerque from a billboard.

The 24-year-old was the city’s “ALeRT” offender of the week, wanted on three active felony warrants. The city said in a news release that Terrazas has been arrested six times in the last two years.

Terrazas’ history of arrests and charges mirrors the conclusions of a recent city study into the demographics of people who are arrested in Albuquerque, especially those whom police often call “repeat offenders.” The study was completed by the ABQ i-team and academics in an attempt to gain an understanding of their common traits.

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Are they emboldened criminals whose crimes escalate as they skirt stiff penalties? Are they sophisticated specialists who commit a single type of crime over and over?

As it turns out, many are like Terrazas.

He’s a drug user who has been accused – but so far rarely convicted – of property crimes, domestic violence, kidnapping and violations of the public order, like trespassing, according to arrest warrant affidavits filed against him.

Crime in Albuquerque has been on the increase since 2010, and public safety is one of the more pressing issues facing the city, said Mayor Richard Berry, who leaves office at the end of next month.

A recent Journal Poll indicates that the voting public agrees. The poll found that 69 percent of likely Albuquerque voters consider Albuquerque’s crime rate to be the city’s No. 1 concern.

In its final work for the city before its grant funding runs out, the ABQ i-team is studying crime and the demographics of people who are arrested in Bernalillo County. The team was funded with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to do work for the city from 2015-2017.

The first phase of the demographic study concluded that what the report calls a “repeat arrestee” in Albuquerque has been held on a wide variety of crimes, ranging from DWI to being a public nuisance to larceny. And there’s a good chance the suspect has also racked up at least one arrest in connection with a violent crime, such as assault or domestic violence.

chart 1“It paints the picture that as an individual arrest history lengthens over time, (the defendants) are committing lots of different types of crimes,” Scott Darnell, the i-team director, said in an interview with the Journal last week.

“We shouldn’t think it immediately means they are committing a lot of violent crimes or lots of felony crimes. Our data shows it’s a lot of misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors, property crimes and drug crimes.”

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For example, Terrazas’ recent criminal history, which earned him a place on the city’s list of the most serious criminals, started in May 2016 when he was convicted of criminal trespassing and sentenced to two days in jail. Since then:

• In June 2016, he allegedly stabbed a counter during a fight with his niece and was charged with aggravated assault. The case was dismissed when his niece refused to cooperate.

• In October 2016, he was charged with aggravated assault. He was accused of holding a knife above his head during a fight with his sister. The case is pending and a warrant has been issued for Terrazas’ failure to appear.

• In January 2017, police were called to a home on a domestic violence call. According to official records, before police arrived, Terrazas broke into his neighbor’s home armed with a knife and didn’t let the man leave. Terrazas ate an apple, smoked a crack pipe, then fled. He was charged with false imprisonment, aggravated burglary and resisting law enforcement. Court records indicate that Terrazas failed to appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

• In March 2017, Terrazas was charged with residential burglary. Prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the case.

• Later in March 2017, Terrazas was arrested on suspicion of having a stolen gun. Prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the case.

Albuquerque’s Real Time Crime Center said Terrazas has another warrant for failure to appear in a different case. It doesn’t appear that Terrazas has been convicted of anything more serious than criminal trespassing.

Terrazas’ attorney couldn’t be reached for comment. Lawyers with the public defender’s office said it’s unclear how Albuquerque police decide to classify some people as the most serious criminals.

“I think the worry from our office is that the public hears ‘repeat offender’ and assumes that to be someone who engages in serial, violent conduct, when in fact APD is often referring to people who, because of homelessness or drug addiction or some other condition, become trapped in the system,” said Scott Wisniewski, a public defender. “There needs to be a better explanation, and less inflammatory language, as to what people are accused of doing.”

To complete its latest report, “A Study on the Characteristics and Criminal Activity of Arrestees in Bernalillo County,” the i-team partnered with academics at the University of New Mexico and Virginia Tech and examined the demographics of people who are arrested in Albuquerque, especially those who are arrested multiple times.

The study broke down data on more than 127,000 people who were arrested nearly 312,000 times from Jan. 1, 2010, through the end of 2016.

Those included in the study were arrested at least one time in Bernalillo County, though much of the crime data came from outside the county. That means a person could have been arrested once in Bernalillo County, once in Sandoval County and once in Santa Fe, for example, and all three arrests would be included in the city’s study.

For most people, one arrest was enough. Of all the individuals charged with crimes in the study period, 58 percent were charged only once.

But the other 42 percent of arrestees accumulated an average of 4.5 arrests apiece, according to the report.

An even smaller group of people are responsible for a significant chunk of arrests.

In the seven years covered in the study, about 4,700 people were arrested 10 or more times. Those people account for about 0.8 percent of the city population, but they represented 20.4 percent of all arrests included in the study.

chart 2“There’s a small percentage of people who are being arrested who are really responsible for a great deal of the crime, which is not unusual to Albuquerque,” Berry said.

When a repeat arrestee is booked on a violent crime charge, there’s a 45 percent chance that person has at some time also been arrested on a drug charge, a 47 percent chance for a property crime arrest and a 48 percent chance for an arrest on suspicion of violating the public order, according to the city’s study.

Paul Guerin, the director of the Center for Applied Research and Analysis at the University of New Mexico and who participated in the study, said previous studies of incarcerated people found that drug addiction and mental health issues are often factors for those who are frequently arrested on suspicion of a variety of crimes.

“Just to look at arrests for drugs is not the way to look at it. It’s that people are in a drug-using lifestyle,” he said. “So they are committing lots of crimes to feed their drug use. So you would see a lot of their (criminal histories) not in the drug-related crimes but in the property crime (category).”

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