ABQ metro again ranked No. 1 in auto thefts

Two Bernalillo County Firefighters spray water on a suspected stolen car that was set ablaze in an arroyo in November 2003. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

For the second year in a row the Albuquerque area was rated No. 1 in the country – in auto theft, that is.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau found that Bernalillo and neighboring counties kept the 2016 streak alive with nearly 10,000 auto thefts in 2017, according to statistics released Thursday.

Analyzing data from the National Crime Information Center, the bureau found 9,989 auto thefts across Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties in 2017. That ranks the area No. 1 in the country for auto thefts per capita.

The bureau ranks areas per capita to compare cities such as Albuquerque to a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles or a small town like Anchorage, Alaska, the latter of which took second place in the country with 3,274 auto thefts.

Although Albuquerque’s numbers dropped slightly – from 10,011 auto thefts in 2016 – it still holds tight to the 50 percent increase from 2015 when 6,657 auto thefts were reported.

Frank Scafidi, the director of public affairs for the NICB, said the bureau uses the NCIC rather than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which is a voluntary system, because all law enforcement agencies report an auto theft into NCIC.

Here’s how it works: anytime a theft occurs authorities enter vehicle identification number into the NCIC system.

“That counts as a theft, even if it’s recovered in the next five minutes,” Scafidi said. “Whether it’s recovered, what counts in the report is the theft itself.”

He said a lot of variables go into auto theft trends such as the one the Albuquerque area has experienced the past few years.

Scafidi said, for example, the nation has seen a lot of police agencies “atrophy,” whether it’s through budget problems, personnel shortages, or other conditions.

“When they have to start trimming their services then usually the first things that go are the less notorious crimes,” he said.

Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby said it’s no surprise we are No. 1, but believes the city will see a difference going forward as the new administration and chief of police implement practices and policies to address staffing.

“This is all about having the correct amount of resources for the Albuquerque crime,” he said. “It took us eight years to fall this far down and it’s just not going to be repaired overnight.”

Willoughby said APD currently has around 850 officers but needs to reach a minimum of 1,400.

Willoughby said it’s important to stay on the path that Albuquerque is a competitively paid and appropriately staffed department.

“Until we get there, you’re not going to see those numbers sharply fall,” he said.

Deputy Chief of Police Harold Medina called the results old news.

“That’s going to change next year,” he said.

Medina said early indications show a reduction of around 17 percent for auto theft in the first six months of 2018 – a drop he attributed to the new administration seeking partnerships across agencies and increasing community policing in a effort to tackle auto theft.

He said it’s important for the department to continually reassess what’s working and what’s not, remain progressive and continually modify operations to address the problems at hand.

“We need to acknowledge where we are at and continue to work hard to get the decreases that we want but also not forget that if we don’t practice strong community policing we could go right back to where we were,” Medina said.

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