Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
From Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights to the International District, crime is on people’s minds.
“I see crime in my area every day,” a person who lives in a high-crime area said during a recent focus group about crime in Albuquerque. “I hear police sirens every day … And I hear gunshots every few days.”
For someone who lives in the Northeast Heights, home and automobile break-ins are the most pressing concern – not SWAT team callouts. Yet that person also says crime “is everywhere.”
According to new research released by the ABQ i-team, nearly all Bernalillo County residents believe crime is a serious problem, but they view crime differently depending on where they live.
However, regardless of where they live, over half say they expect to be a victim of crime in the next year and nearly half report that they’ve been the victim of a property crime in the past three years. Almost a third of respondents have a friend or relative who has been the victim of a violent crime in the past three years.
The research also found that many residents have tough-on-crime attitudes, with a majority saying the justice system is too lenient and allows too many suspects out of jail while awaiting trial.
The ABQ i-team, a group funded with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the city, just completed research focused on resident insights on crime, public safety and the criminal justice system. The new research is based on focus groups and telephone surveys of people who live in what are considered high- and low-crime parts of the city.
“Property crime is clearly on the minds of Albuquerque residents,” said Scott Darnell, the director of the i-team. The results showed that auto theft and home burglaries were the most pressing crimes on people’s minds, regardless of where they lived. The results also showed that most people feel safe in their own homes, most see drugs as an underlying problem and most want suspects held more often pending trial.
The telephone survey was done between July 28 and Aug. 10. There were 403 random Bernalillo County people surveyed and 220 people who live in the Southeast Heights or near San Mateo and Montgomery, which are considered high-crime areas based on previous i-team research. There were also two focus groups, one with residents from the far Northeast Heights and the other with people from high-crime neighborhoods.
The results show that no matter where someone lives, from the nicest to the poorest neighborhoods, nearly half of all people in Bernalillo County said they were a victim of a property crime in the past three years. And most people expect to be victimized in the next year.
The survey found that 52 percent of all county residents say they are either somewhat likely or very likely to be a victim of a crime in the next year. The percentage ticked up to 58 percent for people in high-crime neighborhoods.
“To me that was one of the most striking things in this survey. To find out that approximately half the people think there is a very or somewhat likely chance that (they) might be a victim of crime,” said Brian Sanderoff, the president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the surveys and hosted the focus groups.
Survey results found that 47 percent of people regardless of where they live say they were the victim of a property crime in the past three years.
It also found that 8 percent of those throughout the county had been a victim of violent crime in the past three years, and 28 percent had a friend or family member who was a victim. Those numbers did not change much in the high-crime area, where 10 percent said they had been a violent crime victim and 29 percent had a friend or family member who had been a victim.
However, most felt safe in their homes: 90 percent countywide felt safe during the daytime, while 78 percent in the high-crime area felt safe. During the nighttime, 78 percent countywide felt safe in their homes, and 64 percent of those in the high-crime area felt safe.
While some of the survey results are similar regardless of what part of town people live in, Sanderoff said the research showed that crime affects people’s lives in different ways depending on where they live.
“In the high-crime areas, they are thinking about crime all around them. They hear the sirens, they hear the shootings, they see the needles,” he said. “People in the low-crime areas are more concerned about their car getting broken into.”
Far more people in the high-crime focus group rated the seriousness of crime in their area as a 5 – the highest grade offered. Those in the low-crime group tended to rate it as a 3 or 4.
Attitudes on crime
The research also found that many Albuquerque residents have developed tough-on-crime attitudes. In low-crime areas, 59 percent think that the local criminal justice system is lenient. And 65 percent who live in high-crime neighborhoods share that sentiment.
During the surveys, researchers gave participants scenarios and asked them to pretend to be a judge and decide whether to release someone before trial.
In one scenario, people were told: “A man was just arrested for stealing a car, driving it around town for several days, and selling it for a few hundred dollars.” The scenario didn’t include information about how police determined the person’s guilt.
Of those surveyed, 50 percent of county residents thought the person should be held in jail until trial. Among people who live in high-crime neighborhoods, that number ticked up to 55 percent.
“We found that Bernalillo County residents are pretty strict,” Sanderoff said.
Matthew Coyte, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, reviewed the language in the scenarios and said it left out crucial information.
“The language does not inform the person making the decision of the importance of following the law. We have learned over centuries that a fair justice system requires the presumption of innocence along with an opportunity for release while waiting for a trial,” he said. “The law only allows for punishment after someone is convicted and not before.”
Using i-team data
The recent study on the community’s attitudes on crime and the local judicial system was one of several research projects the i-team has done. The i-team was created to gain an understanding and find ways to address challenges facing the city. Other studies have determined the parts of the city with the highest crime rates and the criminal backgrounds of people who have been arrested multiple times.
Mayor Richard Berry, who leaves office at the end of next month, said the data show that people throughout the city are fed up with the high crime rates. Crime has been on the increase in Albuquerque since 2010, and it’s the No. 1 concern of local residents, according to Journal polls.
People who participated in focus groups suggested that stopping a “revolving door” and “catch and release” at the jail, hiring more police officers and addressing drug addiction would help reduce crime.
Berry has placed some of the blame on ongoing reforms that have caused the jail population to plummet, meaning more criminal suspects are being released and are on the streets.
Others who work in the criminal justice system have said the increase in crime is a complex issue caused by a variety of factors, including that Albuquerque police are making far fewer arrests than in past years and prosecutors, due in part to new court rules, dismiss a significant number of criminal cases.
The jail’s daily average population was about 2,800 in 2013, and it dropped to about 1,200 this year, according to Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council documents.
County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, a member of the criminal justice council, reviewed portions of the report and said jail reform isn’t to blame for the spike in crime. And she said it’s been common knowledge prior to the surveys and focus groups that people are concerned about crime.
“It’s simplistic and misleading to make the argument that the spike in crime is due to changes in the criminal justice system. Likely, the crime increase is a response to a combination of factors: fewer police officers on the street, fewer arrests, the opioid epidemic and other factors,” she said in an interview.
“Rather than finger-pointing, our community deserves data-driven, effective responses to crime. Unfortunately, this report doesn’t move us any closer to solutions.”
Berry says there are numerous valuable takeaways from the research. He hopes the next mayor, who takes office Dec. 1, as well as other stakeholders, such as the county and District Attorney’s Office, will use the research as a tool in the fight against crime. Darnell said the group is seeking new grant funding to continue the research.
Here are some results of the ABQ i-team’s report on city residents’ views on crime, based on surveys and focus groups:
- Violent crime was not among the most pressing crime issues concerning residents. Instead, they cited automobile theft, home burglary, drug abuse and home invasion, in that order.
- 47 percent of people said they have been the victim of property crime in the last three years, and more than half the respondents expect to be a victim of a crime in the next year.
- For people who live in high-crime areas, they can tell crime is affecting the city because they frequently see the SWAT team and hear gunshots and sirens. People in low crime areas said they see home and car break-ins.
- Residents believe that 70 percent of crime is caused by people with drug addictions and about 40 percent of criminals have underlying mental health issues.
- When asked how to reduce crime, participants said hire more officers, stop the “revolving door” at the jail and address drug addiction.
- Most residents say that the local criminal justice system is too lenient.
- Many residents strongly believe that many people should be held in jail before trial, even for property crimes such as automobile theft.
- Many residents were unaware — and even skeptical — that the jail population has declined, which it has for several years amid a series of reforms.
- Most residents support the district attorney’s plan to focus its limited resources on defendants with long criminal or arrest histories. More than 75 percent of respondents support more diversion and rehabilitation programs.
- Very few people are aware that Albuquerque police are operating under a court-enforceable settlement agreement with the Department of Justice.
Pressing crime problems
The survey asked respondents to list the most pressing crime problems, then included each respondents’ top three answers. Here are the findings:
Auto theft — 37%
Home burglary — 27%
Auto burglary — 14%
Drug abuse — 12%
Home invasion — 11%
Shooting — 10%
Drug dealing — 8%
Murder — 6%
Armed robbery — 6%
In high-crime area
Auto theft — 35%
Home burglary — 32%
Shooting — 14%
Drug abuse — 14%
Auto burglary — 11%
Murder — 8%
Home invasion — 7%
Drug dealing — 7%
Armed robbery — 6%