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Editorial: Recent APD car-theft sting is paying dividends

The four-day sting in Southeast Albuquerque netted 22 felony arrests and 23 recovered vehicles.

But the biggest benefit from the operation conducted last month by the Albuquerque Police Department could just be the message it sent to both the thugs and other lowlifes who are out there wreaking havoc in our community and to weary Burqueños who are fed up with the unacceptably high crime rate here.

The message to the lowlifes preying on the city was that they will no longer be able to run amok without consequences. You don’t know what corner we’re going to be around next, interim Police Chief Michael Geier said during a news conference last week, directing his words to criminals.

But the message those arrests sent to the law-abiding people in our community was equally important. That message: APD is rolling up its sleeves and getting to work on making Albuquerque safer. At a time when a thief can brazenly steal a PT Cruiser with a 96-year-old woman sitting in the front seat, that message was sorely needed.

The city is projected to hit 8,000 auto thefts in 2017, up from 7,700 in 2016. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported last year that the Albuquerque area had the highest per-capita rate of auto thefts nationwide.

To be sure, this operation, in and of itself, isn’t going to solve Albuquerque’s terrible crime problem. But it was an important step, and we applaud Geier, Deputy Chief Harold Medina, Mayor Tim Keller and the officers who took part in the operation for doing this.

Some might argue that vehicle theft isn’t that big a deal, since it’s not a violent crime. But when thieves steal vehicles, they are often robbing victims of their ability to get to work and support their families. At the same time, they are often feeding a drug habit and/or a larger criminal enterprise that keeps the crime wheel turning and can unleash violence at any time.

Officers worked with APD’s Real Time Crime Center to determine that the southeast part of the city is where the largest portion of stolen vehicles are recovered. Over four days, more than 40 officers patrolled that area, running license plates and making 158 traffic stops.

“The most alarming is the criminal record of some individuals involved,” Medina said, highlighting 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.

“We are taking a comprehensive approach to fighting crime in Albuquerque – one that is based on sound community policing strategies,” Geier said.

Sitting in a police car for four days running license plate numbers isn’t glamorous work, but it works.

And it’s encouraging to see Geier undertake an operation like this despite APD being severely understaffed. We’re also encouraged that his department is utilizing data, as well as planning to reach out to people in the community to get their sense for how the operation benefited them and whether it could be tailored to be more effective.

“Our communities deserve to feel safe, and I appreciate the officers for getting out there to work with the community and tackle this problem,” Keller said.

Yes, Albuquerque residents deserve to feel safe, and stings like this one are a good way to begin accomplishing that. We encourage Geier and APD to continue these efforts while simultaneously trying to bolster the department’s ranks.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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