Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
For several years, the FBI’s Crime in the United States report has presented an increasingly bleak look at violence and theft in Albuquerque and in New Mexico.
And 2017 continued the trend.
Last year, like the year before, the state had the country’s highest per capita rate of property crime and the second-highest per capita rate, after Alaska, of violent crime (not including the District of Columbia).
According to the annual report released Monday by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, the number of violent crimes – murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – in New Mexico’s largest city increased by 23 percent in 2017 as the population stayed nearly static. This is larger than the previous year’s increase, when violent crime rose 15.5 percent.
In 2016, there were a reported 6,245 violent crimes in the city, for a rate of 1,112 per 100,000 residents; in 2017, the number of violent crimes jumped to 7,686, for a rate of 1,369 per 100,000.
Property crimes – burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft – increased by 7 percent, from 38,528 to 41,350, for a rate of 7,366 per 100,000 residents. The previous year, the spike had been much, much higher, with an increase of 41.8 percent.
Overall, increases for the entire state were much less dramatic: Violent crime rose by 12 percent, and property crime was up by 0.5 percent. New Mexico as a whole had 16,359 violent crimes reported and 82,306 property crimes reported in 2017.
The data are at odds with national trends.
Although violent crime had been increasing across the United States for the past two years, in 2017 it decreased 0.2 percent (the rate fell 0.9 percent), according to the FBI report summary.
Property crime dropped for the 15th straight year, decreasing by 3 percent across the country.
Nationally, the crime rate is 383 violent offenses per 100,000 residents and 2,362 property crimes per 100,000 residents. Albuquerque’s crime rates are more than triple that in both categories.
Compared with the similar-sized Western cities of El Paso, Colorado Springs, Tucson and Oklahoma City, Albuquerque is the clear front-runner in rates of both violent and property crime.
El Paso, a city that has 127,000 more residents than Albuquerque, had about a third the number of violent crimes and property crimes.
Of the four cities, Tucson comes closest to Albuquerque’s crime levels, with a violent crime rate of 801.76 and a property crime rate of 5,251.70.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office reported 916 violent crimes and 2,640 property crimes outside of the Albuquerque Police Department’s jurisdiction in 2017. This is a 20 percent increase in violent crime and a 6 percent decrease in property crime from the previous year.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, who took office last November after an election that was driven by concerns about the city’s rising crime rates, said the report certainly shows that crime was, and still is, “unacceptably high.”
“Instead of saying there are national trends or these are blips that happen for a few years, we’re saying this is a major problem,” he said in a phone interview. “Our city is an outlier in the country, and we’ve got to step up and face it head-on.”
Traffic stops are up
Although officials from the District Attorney’s Office and the Albuquerque Police Department agree with Keller that the data for 2017 are distressingly high, they have been quick to point out a more recent reversal in the trend.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez said his office has found that starting in August of last year, crime experienced its first sustained decline in the past eight years, decreasing an average of 17 percent over 12 months. He did not differentiate between property crime and violent crime, and said a separate analysis was not immediately available.
“We have a relatively slow decline in the first three months and then a much steeper decline in the last couple of months,” Torrez said.
While the number of robberies in Albuquerque experienced the biggest spike of 2017 – jumping about 50 percent (or nearly 1,000 cases) from 1,957 to 2,930 – according to more recent APD statistics, the number of reported robberies is 40 percent below where it was last year.
In response to the spike, Deputy Chief of Police Harold Medina said the new administration has worked to add more personnel to the robbery unit and is encouraging all field officers to do more traffic stops. Traffic stops have increased by 35 percent.
“Our field officers are more engaged, I think, by seeing the increase in traffic stops this year, we know our officers are more active,” Medina said. “I think that all of those things together have led to a decrease in robberies because we’re taking people into custody.”
Torrez said his office has been combating the problem by turning more and more robbery cases over to the federal system for prosecution.
Auto thefts down
The only category of crime that decreased in Albuquerque from 2016 to 2017 was auto theft, dropping from 7,710 to 7,684. However, the dip did little to improve the city’s national standing for 2017. According to data released over the summer from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Bernalillo and surrounding counties were No. 1 in rates of stolen motor vehicles for the second year in a row.
Torrez said that over the past nine or 10 months, his office, along with the Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico State Police and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, has made a concerted effort to increase arrests and prosecutions in auto theft cases. He said cases involving receiving or transferring stolen motor vehicles historically were viewed as a lower priority.
“You had a number of repeat auto offenders who were in a backlog and we were pretty focused on getting those people identified, getting those cases launched and getting them resolved,” he said.
According to APD statistics, auto theft is 26 percent below where it was this time last year.
Both Torrez and Medina credit the recent drop in crime to increased partnerships between prosecutors and law enforcement, which Torrez said increases the speed and efficiency of prosecuting cases.
“We have a tendency in the community to get so focused on the negative and get so down about crime, we start wondering, ‘Can we ever turn this around?’ ” Torrez said. “I think what’s encouraging over the past 12 months, the answer is, yes, we can make a difference; we can solve a problem. So, hopefully, we can sustain this and start moving toward building this into a safer and stronger community.”