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Police chief touts efforts to curb car thefts

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier, right, and Deputy Chief Harold Medina talk about a four-day auto theft operation during a news conference Tuesday

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier, right, and Deputy Chief Harold Medina talk about a four-day auto theft operation during a news conference Tuesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

You don’t know what corner we’re going to be around next.

That was the message to criminals from the Albuquerque interim police chief on Tuesday as the department announced the results of an operation aimed at curbing what has become record-high numbers of auto thefts.

“It’s on the rise still and it’s our job to cut that off right now at the path,” Albuquerque interim Police Chief Michael Geier said during a news conference, saying the city is projected to hit 8,000 auto thefts in 2017. “We don’t want these criminals to feel that they’re at free rein.”

The four-day operation – conducted last week – involved more than 40 officers patrolling southeast Albuquerque and resulted in 22 felony arrests and 23 recovered vehicles.

APD Deputy Chief Harold Medina said officers worked with APD’s Real Time Crime Center to determine the southeast part of the city is where largest portion of stolen vehicles are recovered.

“These officers literally went out, drove down the road, and ran license plates,” he said.

Medina said during the 158 traffic stops officers managed to avoid any pursuits, if the vehicle fled, by relying on air support to track suspects until they could be arrested safely.

Although two of the arrests resulted in civilian crashes, there were no injuries involved and police said it was a result of the suspect’s actions.

“The most alarming is the criminal record of some individuals involved,” he said. Medina mentioned some of the more storied suspects, such as 33-year-old Richard Newman with eight felony arrests and 19 felony charges and Schaeffer Schongalla, 37, with seven felony arrests and 14 felony charges.

“The list goes on and on and on,” he said.

Medina said the department is working to increase prosecution rates, and keep suspects in jail, by getting paralegals to help organize officers’ cases for the District Attorney.

Medina said police will also work with communities to see how the operations like this benefit them and if they could be tailored to be more effective.

“We have a long way to go to reduce crime in our city, but I am encouraged by the results of this initial auto theft sting,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a released statement. “Our communities deserve to feel safe and I appreciate the officers for getting out there to work with the community and tackle this problem.”

Geier said the department is working toward long-term solutions and preventative opportunities, such as advocating for officer access to services that address associated causes of auto theft, like substance abuse.

He also mentioned changes at the legislature with proposed House Bill 52, that can directly affect the sale of stolen vehicles or stolen vehicle parts.

Geier said as the department recruits more officers, in addition to more “boots on the ground” and operations like this one, there will be “major reductions” in crime going forward.

The city has seen a continued rise in auto theft, from around 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 7,700 in 2016, when the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that the Albuquerque area had the highest per-capita rate of auto thefts nationwide.

“It’s important to note that we are taking a comprehensive approach to fighting crime in Albuquerque — one that is based on sound community policing strategies,” he said.